Washington — Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will be charged with desertion after a months-long review of his disappearance from his Afghanistan outpost that led to his five year-long captivity.
That, at least, is the speculation from Fox News and reportedly confirmed by NBC. The Army denies that any decision has been made.
The reporting “is patently false,” Maj. Gen. Ronald Lewis, chief of public affairs for the US Army, said in a statement provided to the Monitor Tuesday afternoon. “To be clear, there have been no actions or decisions on the Sgt. Bergdahl investigation.”
Instead, the investigation is still with the commanding general of US Army Forces Command, Mark Milley, “who will determine appropriate action – which ranges from no further action to convening a court-martial,” Major General Lewis added. “We understand the public interest in this case, and once a decision has been made, the Army will be open and transparent in this matter.”
Judging from the Pentagon hallway chatter that has come in the wake of the reports, however, the notion that the Army would charge Sergeant Bergdahl with desertion makes a great deal of sense to many senior military officials.
So what would the US military hope to gain by charging Bergdahl with desertion? After all, wasn’t his confinement at the hands of the Taliban punishment enough?
“I guess it doesn’t surprise me that the Army would be going this route,” says a former military official who served as a top judge advocate general (JAG) and spoke on condition of anonymity because he continues to sit on a panel that hears military cases.
“I hate to say it like this, but it’s a win-win for everyone,” he adds.
It’s a “win” for the Pentagon, because it sends a strong message desertion is unacceptable.
But there is also a compassionate nod to the hardships Bergdahl endured while in captivity. “The government really isn’t interested in putting him in jail,” the former JAG says.
Indeed, if the Army does decide to charge Bergdahl with desertion, he will most likely have the option of requesting a discharge.
With a possible court-martial looming, this discharge would not be honorable, but rather a less-than-honorable discharge.
The Army could refuse Bergdahl’s request for discharge, but this would be “highly unlikely,” the former senior JAG says.
“I’d be very surprised if they did that. What they want is to have him out of the Army,” he says–not the public outcry that would likely come if Bergdahl faced jail time after five years as a Taliban captive.
“I think they just want to get rid of them, and to send a strong signal that this type of behavior will not be tolerated.”
This behavior includes reportedly leaving his combat outpost, Mest-Lalak, in Paktika Province in dangerous eastern Afghanistan in June, 2009.
Bergdahl was returned to the United States after a prisoner swap that was arranged earlier this year.
It is remains unclear whether Bergdahl intended to return to his outpost, or not.