The Corner

The Pentagon Throws the Book at Bowe Bergdahl

It looks like the Obama administration may have traded five high-ranking Taliban prisoners for someone who was worse than a deserter:

Military prosecutors have reached into a section of military law seldom used since World War II in the politically fraught case against Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the soldier held prisoner for years by the Taliban after leaving his post in Afghanistan.

Observers wondered for months if Bergdahl would be charged with desertion after the deal brokered by the U.S. to bring him home. He was — but he was also charged with misbehavior before the enemy, a much rarer offense that carries a stiffer potential penalty in this case.

Misbehavior before the enemy violates Article 99 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and includes grotesquely dishonorable behavior, including running away, “shamefully” abandoning any place that it is his “duty to defend,” “cowardly conduct,” or endangering the safety of his unit through his own “disobedience, neglect, or intentional misconduct.” The maximum penalty is death, but it’s highly unlikely that the Army will seek to execute Bergdahl. Life imprisonment, however, is much more realistic.

Given what we know about this case, Article 99 is an appropriate charge. As he knew — as everyone knew who served downrange — the military will launch a massive search for any soldier missing in action. Not only is there a moral imperative not to leave a fallen comrade, prisoners in enemy hands would likely be tortured, exploited for intelligence information, then executed (on film) in the most brutal way possible. While the military apparently disputes the allegation that soldiers died searching for Bergdahl, he unquestionably put his brothers-in-arms at immense risk.

Next up is an Article 32 hearing on September 17. More evidence will emerge during the court-martial proceedings, but thus far I’ve seen nothing to contradict the charge and much evidence to support the prosecution. In the meantime, five Taliban commanders were unavailable for comment. They were too busy plotting the deaths of American soldiers and civilians.

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