Granted, we’ve known about the likelihood of a desertion charge for weeks now. It was in late January that NBC reported hearing from a defense source that Bergdahl would be charged. That report was walked back at the time – the Army said it was “continuing to review” the case – but the writing has been on the wall for a while.
Now it’s official. Bergdahl has been charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, separate counts of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). The next thing he’ll face is an Article 32 hearing, or a pretrial hearing which establishes the basis for prosecution. It’s out of the Article 32 hearing that a decision will be made about proceeding to court-martial. General Mark Milley, commanding general of Army Forces Command (FORSCOM), is the authority who decided to bring the charges. According to the TV news channels, the most the Army is considering as punishment is life in prison.
It’s kind of a check in the block, to remind ourselves of the president’s praise of Bergdahl when he was swapped for five Taliban operatives, who had been held at Guantanamo, in 2014.
It’s perhaps not so much of a check in the block, to remind ourselves that the whole chain of command, from Bergdahl’s unit up the president, has had reason to know from the very beginning about the likelihood that Bergdahl was a deserter. Michelle Malkin was reporting evidence of it (obtained originally by AP) as early as 20 July 2009, less than a month after Bergdahl left his unit in Afghanistan. Rolling Stone’s 2012 article on Bergdahl gave considerable attention to the assessment of Bergdahl’s fellow soldiers that he had deserted.
The president was thus well aware at the time he decided to release five Taliban detainees in exchange for Bergdahl that he was probably making this trade to get a deserter back. Obama appealed to the axiom that we “leave no one behind.”
Meanwhile, the term of the “supervised release” for the five Taliban operatives expires at the end of May. Their supervised release is being served in Qatar. Fox News reports today that three of the five are already known to have tried to reconnect with their old Taliban networks. After the end of May, Qatar may or may not keep enough track of them to know what they’re doing; basically, we can confidently assume they will all go to Pakistan or Afghanistan and resume their lives with the Taliban.
The soldiers patrolling Paktika Province in Afghanistan, where Bergdahl left his unit, believe that six soldiers were killed in the intensive search for Bergdahl in the months after he was last seen on 30 June 2009. Their names are listed here:
The six men reportedly killed while searching for Bergdahl were identified as Staff Sgt. Clayton Bowen and Pfc. Morris Walker on Aug. 18, 2009; Staff Sgt. Kurt Curtiss on Aug. 26; 2nd Lt. Darryn Andrews and Pfc. Matthew Michael Martinek on Sept. 4; and Staff Sgt. Michael Murphrey on Sept. 5.
The Pentagon agrees on which soldiers were killed during the period when the search for Bergdahl was at its height, but in June 2014, it concluded that only two of them were killed in the search for Bergdahl.