The Article 32 preliminary hearing into the charges against Army Sergeant Robert “Bowe” Bergdahl – who walked off of his Afghan combat outpost in 2009, was captured by the Taliban, and was held in terrible (and apparently tortuous) conditions until he was recovered in a prisoner exchange in 2014 – began last week at Fort Sam Houston in Texas. Here’s a roundup:
This Washington Post report by Dan Lamonthe provides an outline of the prosecution’s case against Sergeant Bergdahl. Mr. Lamonthe writes:
The officer who led the investigation of Bowe Bergdahl’s disappearance and capture in Afghanistan six years ago testified Friday that the Army sergeant said he walked away from his post as part of a plan to spark a search and get the attention of a general so he could express his concerns about his unit’s leadership.
Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dahl told a packed courtroom at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio that Bergdahl felt the problems were so severe that they put his platoon in danger, but that Bergdahl’s perceptions were “completely off the mark.”
Associated Press reporter Juan A. Lozano has additional details here.
This CNN report provides an outline of the defense case:
When asked what in Bergdahl’s background might have caused his behavior in the military, Dahl said that the combination of growing up in rural Idaho on the “edge of the grid … being home-schooled” and the fact that he “internalized a lot of what he read” resulted in him having “idealistic and unrealistic expectations of people.”
Though Bergdahl was not duty-bound to comply with the investigation, he did and submitted to a day and a half interview. Bergdahl did exercise his right to silence at the start of the interview, Dahl said.
Dahl said he didn’t “believe there is a jail sentence at the end of this process.”
In this report the Christian Science Monitor quotes an anonymous official as speculating that this case will end with a request for discharge in lieu of trial by court-martial (known in the Army as a Chapter 10 – where it appears in Army Regulation 635–200 which governs the administrative separation of enlisted personnel). Notably, pursuant to paragraph 10-8.a of that regulation:
A discharge under other than honorable conditions normally is appropriate for a Soldier who is discharged in lieu of trial by court-martial. However, the separation authority may direct a general discharge if such is merited by the Soldier’s overall record during the current enlistment.
It’s also notable that in the absence of a request for discharge in lieu of trial, or a punitive discharge adjudged by a court-martial, Sergeant Bergdahl would likely be entitled to an honorable discharge. Chapter 3-7.a(1) of AR 635-200 states:
Only the honorable characterization may be awarded a Soldier upon completion of his/her period of enlistment or period for which called or ordered to AD or ADT or where required under specific reasons for separation, unless an entry-level status separation (uncharacterized) is warranted.
(emphasis added). Sergeant Bergdahl’s enlistment expired during his captivity, meaning that and end-of-obligation discharge now would include an honorable characterization of service. The big caveat to this is a finding that the captivity was due to his own misconduct; such a finding would exclude that time from the running of his service obligation, thereby extending his enlistment.