No matter how you slice the tale of former Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, it's not looking good. Since his release was secured last year as part of a controversial prisoner swap with the Taliban, criticism has raged, with allegations from former squad members that he'd betrayed and deserted his unit. And Wednesday, the official word finally came down: Bergdahl will indeed be tried on two charges, for "desertion" and "misbehavior before the enemy." And the possible punishment for such charges is heavy, to say the least. Could Bowe Bergdahl actually be executed if he's convicted?
At first blush, the answer appeared to be yes. At least technically, that is. As ABC News details, a charge of desertion can carry a possible death sentence. However, any decision to execute Bergdahl would've been highly unconventional, as no U.S. service-member has been executed by the government since former Army Private Eddie Slovik, back in 1944. In short, while the charges against Bergdahl are serious in the extreme — it's been alleged that some number of U.S. soldiers died due to the search for him — it seemed unlikely all along that there wouldn't be much appetite to put him to death. It's an enormous statement to make, and one which seems to have fallen out of fashion as decades have passed.
And, perhaps wanting to lay all of that discussion to rest, the Pentagon has apparently taken that option off the table altogether. According to CBS News' David Martin, the charges won't include any chance for a death sentence.
That's not to say that nobody wants him to pay the ultimate price, however. Basically immediately following his return to U.S. soil, Bergdahl's been the target of scathing, condemning attacks from many of his former comrades. Just last month, Sergeant First Class Nathan Botts, a former member of the very same unit, told Washington CBS affiliate KREM that he wanted to see Bergdahl killed for his actions.
Everybody knew that he left. You don't just fold up all your clothes and your armor, and put it in a neat pile on your bed and then be abducted. He left. Plain and simple. ... In my personal opinion, it would be a death sentence. Do I think that he deserves it? Yes. Now, do I think that he's going to get it? No.
Botts' admission that he didn't actually see this punishment on the horizon for Bergdahl was prescient, as it turns out. But what'll probably really roil his most vocal critics is if he gets a lowered sentence counting time served during his Taliban captivity, a possibility that's been floated. Five years in captivity isn't a substitute for the most severe possible sentence in front of him, however — per the Washington Post, he could receive a life sentence in prison and a dishonorable discharge if convicted.