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 against him.
"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.
If you are a U.S. military service member facing a criminal accusation, you have a choice in civilian counsel. Joseph L. Jordan, Attorney at Law is an Army veteran with more than 10 years in the service. He now dedicates his firm to the defense of accused service members and has traveled to the globe to advocate for them. Clients that choose our firm can count on aggressive, incisive counsel with an insider understanding of military law procedure and culture.
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A military attorney performs many of the same duties as his civilian counterpart. The difference is that the attorney works for and with military personnel. Military legal personnel participate in court proceedings in courtrooms on military bases all across the globe.