Bowe Bergdahl to face desertion charges: Why the White House is embarrassed
US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is expected to be charged with desertion, according to news reports. The Pentagon denies the reports. Why the White House would rather he wasn't.
US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who was held captive for five years after disappearing from his base in Afghanistan in 2009, will be charged with desertion, according to NBC News. Bergdahl was released last year in a prisoner swap with the Taliban.
Citing senior defense officials, NBC News confirmed the news Tuesday.
[Update: A Pentagon spokesman said Tuesday afternoon that no decision had been made yet regarding charges against Bergdahl. Major General Ronald Lewis, head of public affairs for the US Army, also said in the statement that media reports published earlier on Tuesday about the case "patently false."]
According to allegations, Bergdahl abandoned his outpost in June 2009 to avoid "hazardous duty or important service," which are grounds for charges of desertion under the Uniform Military Code of Justice, or UCMJ, as NBC News reported. According to one senior official who spoke with NBC News, Bergdahl allegedly abandoned his post "in the middle of a combat zone, potentially putting the lives of his fellows soldiers at risk."
Bergdahl was reportedly captured by the Haqqani terrorist network in Pakistan. He was released in exchange for five Taliban commanders held at the US detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, a decision for which the White House has come under fire.
While Bergdahl has not yet been charged, defense and military officials have said it is likely authorities will take into account the five years he spent in captivity. As such, he would most likely leave the Army with a "less than honorable discharge." If charged, he may also be denied as much as $300,000 in back pay and bonuses, and reduced in rank to at least Private First Class, the rank he held when he disappeared from his outpost in Afghanistan, according to reports.
The news comes as an embarrassment to the White House, which as Hot Air reported, "cough[ed] up five big fish for one deserter."
The White House, which arranged for the prisoner swap in May, was criticized at the time for "negotiating with terrorists." Some Republican lawmakers, as well as others in Bergdahl's unit, objected to the trade on the grounds that Bergdahl had deserted.
The Government Accounting Office also issued a report last August which concluded that the administration did in fact violate the law when it failed to notify Congress about the impending prisoner swap, as required by law.
The Department of Defense violated section 8111 of the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2014 when it transferred five individuals detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the nation of Qatar without providing at least 30-days notice to certain congressional committees,” the Government Accountability Office said in response to a letter from Republican lawmakers, including Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, and Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby.
"We saw an opportunity,” Obama explained on June 3. “We were concerned about Sgt. Bergdahl’s health. We had the cooperation of the Qataris to execute an exchange, and we seized that opportunity.”
Ret. Army Lt. Col. Tony Schaffer, who spoke with Fox New's Bill O'Reilly Monday, says that the White House doesn’t want Bergdahl prosecuted, and was trying to delay release of the news.
“This is shaping up to be a titanic struggle behind the scenes,” Shaffer, a long-time critic of US policies in Afghanistan, told Fox News. He also said that two separate military sources have told him that Bergdahl’s attorney has been given a “charge sheet,” listing out the articles of the uniform military code that have been violated.