Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who abandoned his post in Afghanistan and was held captive for five years by the Taliban, was charged Wednesday by the U.S. military with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy and could get life in prison if convicted.
The misbehavior charge could land Bergdahl in prison for life, though some legal experts said a lengthy sentence was unlikely. He also could be dishonorably discharged and forfeit all his pay if convicted on either charge.
Next, an Article 32 hearing — similar to a civilian grand jury proceeding — will be held at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, where Bergdahl has been performing administrative duties. From there, it could be referred to a court-martial and go to trial.
The charges are the latest development in a long and bitter debate over Bergdahl’s case. They also underscore the military and political ramifications of his decision on June 30, 2009, to leave his post after expressing misgivings about the U.S. military’s role, as well as his own, in the Afghanistan war.
After leaving his post, Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban and held by members of the Haqqani network.
Last May 31, Bergdahl was handed over to U.S. special forces in Afghanistan as part of an exchange for five Taliban commanders who were imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The exchange set off a debate over whether the U.S. should have released the five Taliban members.
Wednesday’s announcement brought further criticism of the exchange from some lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas and the chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security.
“President Obama endangered our national security and broke the law when he chose to negotiate with terrorists and release hardened enemy combatants from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for Sgt. Bergdahl — who many believed at the time was a deserter,” McCaul said in a statement.