Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl Is Charged With Desertion

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from The Wall Street Journal,

Army sergeant also charged with misbehavior before the enemy.

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was freed by Afghan insurgents last May as part of an exchange for five Taliban prisoners, was charged Wednesday with having deserted his remote base before his capture in 2009.

The military charges, resulting from a long-awaited but tightly guarded investigation, include desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. A conviction could lead to a dishonorable discharge from the military and, in the extreme, life in prison for Sgt. Bergdahl.

The decision to lodge charges marked the culmination of the closely scrutinized probe of the 28-year-old, whose release in last year’s swap allowed the five Taliban prisoners to go free from the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Sgt. Bergdahl’s release triggered criticism from soldiers who had served alongside him and from some lawmakers.

Military officials didn’t specify what in Sgt. Bergdahl’s conduct warranted the misbehavior charge, which is the more serious offense, carrying a potential life sentence. Under the text of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, a service member may be guilty of such a charge if he or she runs away, “shamefully” abandons a military unit, endangers the safety of a unit, engages in “cowardly” conduct, or fails to do the utmost to capture or destroy enemy troops.

Sgt. Bergdahl’s attorney, Eugene Fidell, challenged the charges on Wednesday and for the first time outlined his defense: The young soldier wasn’t trying to desert. He left the Army outpost to find a high-ranking officer to complain about serious problems he was having in his unit, Mr. Fidell said. He urged Americans to “withhold judgment until the facts of this case emerge” and released a lengthy statement that included the first statement from Sgt. Bergdahl detailing the conditions of his nearly five years in captivity.

On Wednesday, Republican lawmakers seized on the Army decision to denounce the swap.

“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,” said Rep. Michael McCaul (R., Texas), chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.

The White House National Security Council declined Wednesday to comment on the Army’s decision.

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