On December 14, the U.S. Army announced that it would indeed move forward
with a court-martial against embattled Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. Bergdahl's
case, which is only gaining more and more national attention, had been
in flux for months due to a long and thorough Article 32 hearing concerning
the evidence against him.
On June 30, 2009, Bergdahl disappeared from his post at the Combat Outpost
Mest-Lalak in Paktika province, Afghanistan. He was later captured by
Taliban operatives and imprisoned for five years. Last year, he was freed
in a prisoner swap that still remains politically controversial. This
year, Bergdahl was charged with one count of desertion with intent to
shirk important or hazardous duty and one count of misbehavior before
the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit or place. If convicted,
he faces life in prison.
As Army Times reports, General Robert Abrams referred Bergdahl's case
to court-martial and will serve as court-martial convening authority.
Initially, it had seemed that Bergdahl might escape serious legal action:
both an Article 32 investigating officer and Lt. Col. Mark Visger's
reports on Bergdahl's case recommended no (or minimal) punitive action
"The convening authority did not follow the advice of the preliminary
hearing officer who heard the witnesses," Bergdahl's defense
team said in a statement. They also added that they had obviously "hoped
the case would not go in this direction. We will continue to defend Sgt.
Bergdahl as the case proceeds."
Growing National Attention
Bergdahl's case has always been controversial. The White House is still
being criticized by conservatives who believe that Guantanamo prisoner
swap to free Bergdahl was unwarranted-- especially due to suspicions that
Bergdahl cooperated with Taliban, resulting in deadly attacks against
U.S. armed forces. GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump called Bergdahl
"a dirty, rotten traitor" during an August town hall meeting
in New Hampshire, prompting Bergdahl's defense team to decry Trump
and call his comments "a call for mob justice."
The Army's court-martial decision comes four days after the premiere
of season 2 of "Serial," a hotly anticipated podcast that garnered
millions of viewers during its first run in 2014. While the podcast's
first season focused on an engrossing, investigative look into a 1999
Baltimore murder case, its host, Sarah Koenig, and producers have turned
to Bergdahl's case as their next topic. Season 2's first episode
featured interview recordings of Bergdahl from conversations with screenwriter
Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker,
Zero Dark Thirty), who is not only assisting the “Serial” team, but producing
his own documentary film on Bergdahl's case. It is the first time
Bergdahl has been heard speaking at length about his decision to leave
his post, the charges against him, and his experience as a Taliban prisoner.
It is expected that "Serial" will delve into Bergdahl's claims
and motivations to leave his post in 2009. According to Bergdahl, he had
grave misgivings about the leadership at Combat Outpost Mest-Lalak and
wanted to trigger a "DUSTWUN" (a form "missing in action")
to call the attention of neighboring U.S. outposts to those concerns.
No date for Bergdahl's court-martial has been set, but considering
"Serial," the ramping up of the 2016 presidential race, and
an upcoming film, it appears as though Bergdahl's case will only become
a larger point of public discussion and speculation in the coming months.
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