Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dahl, who led the investigation into Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s disappearance from his post in Afghanistan in 2009, says he does not think the accused deserter will go to jail, adding that a prison sentence would be “inappropriate.”
The Army general’s comments, made while testifying during an Army Article 32 hearing Friday at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, comes after members of Bergdahl’s former unit have repeatedly called for serious punishment, claiming that some service members lost their lives while looking for the alleged deserter.
In December, the U.S. Army acknowledged that no action against Bergdahl was a possible outcome of the investigation to determine whether Bergdahl deserted his post.
Addressing a packed room during the court proceedings at Fort Sam Houston that began Thursday to determine if Bergdahl will face a court martial, Gen. Dahl said that accused deserter left his post in an effort to intentionally spark a search and win the attention of a general so that he could expose problems within his unit.
The general added that Bergdahl believed the problems were so severe that they endangered his platoon. However, the chief investigator also noted that the alleged deserter’s concerns were discovered to be unsubstantiated.
Bergdahl’s commanding officers in Afghanistan testified Thursday about the grueling 45-day operation launched to search for the alleged deserter, stressing that it put other soldiers in danger.
Nevertheless, Gen. Dahl said on Friday, “I do not believe there is a jail sentence at the end of this procedure. I think it would be inappropriate.”
“While wrapping up their cases, military prosecutor Margaret Kurz said Bergdahl should face a court-martial because his decision led to a lengthy search that put other soldiers in danger,” reports The Associated Press (AP).
Eugene Fidell, the defendant’s lead attorney, said his client “never intended to avoid his duty and that his case should be treated like a one-day AWOL stint, which he said carries a penalty of 30 days’ confinement.”
Bergdahl, now 29, has been charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy for vanishing from his post in Afghanistan on June 30, 2009.
He was captured by the Taliban after leaving his post and held by the jihadi group for nearly five years, until President Obama approved his exchange for five Taliban commanders held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress’ watchdog arm, has determined that the Obama administration violated the law by swapping the Taliban detainees for Sgt. Bergdahl without notifying “the relevant congressional committees at least 30 days in advance of the transfer,” as mandated, and for using “appropriated funds to carry out the transfer when no money was available for that purpose.”
“Legal experts said they expected Bergdahl’s lawyers to argue during the Article 32 hearing [earlier this week] that his years of being held captive by the Taliban were punishment enough,” notes AP.
Terrence Russell, a Department of Defense (DOD) official who helped debrief Bergdahl after he was exchanged for the Taliban detainees, testified Friday that the accused deserter suffered under conditions worse than any U.S. prisoner of war (POW) since the Vietnam War.
Russell, a civilian who works for DOD’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, testified that Bergdahl “was beaten with rubber hoses and copper cables and suffered from uncontrollable diarrhea for more than three of the five years he was held captive,” notes AP.
His Taliban captors treated Bergdahl like a “dirty animal,” also said the DOD official, adding that the American soldier was kept in a metal cage for three years.
On Friday, Gen. Dahl denied the allegations that up to a half-dozen soldiers were killed while searching for Bergdahl and that he intended to flee to China or India, arguing that a lot of misinformation has been circulating since Bergdahl abandoned his post.
The Army Article 32 hearing is aimed at determining whether or not there is enough evidence against Bergdahl to warrant a military trial.
“If Bergdahl is tried and convicted of the misbehavior charge, he could get life in prison. He also could be dishonorably discharged, reduced in rank and made to forfeit all pay if he’s convicted,” reports AP.
“The officer presiding over the hearing will forward his recommendations to Gen. Robert Abrams, the commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command. Abrams will decide whether the case should be referred to a court-martial or be resolved in another manner,” adds the report
Bergdahl has not testified in his own defense.
The military has not been holding Bergdahl in confinement. He remains an active duty soldier based in Fort Sam Houston where the his hearing was held.
“Curtis Aberle, a family nurse practitioner at Fort Sam Houston who has been treating Bergdahl, said Bergdahl suffered extensive injuries during his time as a prisoner that have made him unfit to remain in the military,” reports AP.
United Press International (UPI) contributed to this report.