Army charges Bergdahl with desertion and misbehavior

 

The Army on Wednesday charged Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl with desertion, reigniting the debate over whether President Obama paid too high a price to secure his release from the Taliban.

Bergdahl, 28, who went missing from his base in 2009 while serving in Afghanistan, could face life imprisonment for the separate charge of misbehavior before the enemy. Some suggested that other soldiers had died while looking for Bergdahl.

Obama released five Taliban commandos from the Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba in exchange for Bergdahl, the last U.S. prisoner of war in Afghanistan.

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Republicans have argued that was far too high a price to pay for Bergdahl, who fellow soldiers accused of walking off the job and endangering their lives. They have also pointed to a CNN report from January that said one of the five men released from Guantánamo had attempted to return to militant activity by contacting his former associates.

“I have no doubt that, in the future, the ‘Taliban 5’ will return to the fight against the United States,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Wednesday in response to the news about the charges against Bergdahl.

He argued that the trade was part of an effort by the Obama administration to empty the Guantánamo prison, which the president vowed to close in the first days of his presidency.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in a statement said he believed the trade had made Americans less safe.

“Knowing that the United States does not negotiate with terrorists is one of our greatest protections, and now it is compromised,” he said. “Frankly, this is another example of President Obama ignoring our long-established foreign policy priorities, the bipartisan concerns of Congress, and the American people.” 

The White House celebrated Bergdahl’s release with a Rose Garden ceremony attended by the soldier’s family, with Obama saying the prisoner held for five years by the Taliban wasn’t “forgotten by his country.”

Days later, National Security Advisor Susan Rice defended the move, saying Bergdahl had served with “honor and distinction.”

On Wednesday, there were no public comments from the White House on the news about the charges against Bergdahl.

Obama ignored shouted questions about him, when a pool of reporters were ushered in for a trade event at the White House, while White House press secretary Josh Earnest directed media questions to the Pentagon.

Bergdahl, who is serving on active duty at Fort Sam Houston, faces an Article 32 preliminary hearing, to determine whether there is enough evidence for a court-martial. The hearing will take place at the fort. 

The two charges against him are among the most serious that a soldier can face: one count of “desertion with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty,” and another of “misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit or place.”  

The desertion charge carries a maximum penalty of dishonorable discharge, reduction to the lowest possible rank, total forfeiture of all pay and allowances and a five-year prison term.

The charge of misbehavior before the enemy carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, dishonorable discharge, reduction to the lowest rank and total forfeiture of all pay and allowances.

In an interview with CNN late Wednesday, Graham said Bergdahl deserved and would receive a fair trial.

He argued the real importance of the story was Obama’s decision to trade the five Taliban members for Bergdahl, which he said was a terrible decision.

 

— Jordan Fabian and Jesse Byrnes contributed.

 

Last updated at 8:19 p.m.