Bergdahl to be arraigned and charged with desertion and 'misbehavior' before the enemy

Bowe Bergdahl faces arraignment today at Fort Bragg on charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. The desertion charge carries a maximum five year sentence while the rarely used misbehavior offense carries a maximum life term.

In fact, the so-called Article 99 charge has been been applied only once in the last 70 years.

Before the Bergdahl case, the most high-profile use of the "misbehavior" offense in the last 70 years under Article 99 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice involved a Navycommander who surrendered his ship in 1968.

A naval Board of Inquiry consisting of five admirals recommended that Cmdr. Lloyd Bucher face a court martial under Article 99 for surrendering the spy ship USS Pueblo, which was armed with two .50 caliber machineguns, to North Korea. It was the first time a U.S. officer had surrendered a ship since the War of 1812.

Then-Navy Secretary John Chafee overruled the admirals and dismissed the charge, saying that Bucher and his crew had already suffered enough in nearly a year of harsh captivity.

The one count of misbehavior against Bergdahl could bring a term of life imprisonment upon conviction. The 29-year-old Bergdahl also faces one count of desertion under Article 85, which could bring a maximum term of five years imprisonment upon conviction.

The arraignment before a military judge at the Fort Bragg Courtroom Tuesday was expected to be brief. The charges will be read into the record by the trial counsel, or prosecutor, unless Bergdahl and his defense team waive the reading. Bergdahl will then enter a plea to the charges.


An Article 32 hearing, sometimes referred to as the military's version of a grand jury proceeding, was held on Sept. 17 and 18 at Joint Base San Antonio. The Article 32 hearing officer recommended no confinement but Gen. Robert B. Abrams, now head of U.S. Forces Command, on Dec. 14 ordered Bergdahl to face a general court martial, the highest military trial venue, on the desertion and misbehavior charges.

The misbehavior charge includes nine separate offenses ranging from "running away" and "cowardly conduct" to behavior that through "disobedience, neglect, or intentional misconduct endangers the safety of any such command, unit, place, or military property."

There shouldn't be much dispute over the notion that Bergdahl deserted his post. And it would appear that some of Bergdahl's actions fit the definition of "misbehavior before the enemy." The question isn't the guilt or innocence of Bergdahl but rather how severely should he be punished?

The preliminary hearing officer recommended no jail time for Bergdahl, the thinking being he had suffered enough in his 5 years in captivity. But General Robert Abrams, commanding officer of Forces Command, threw the book at Bergdahl and ordered a full court martial on the far more serious charges. That would seem to indicate that little consideration will be given to Bergdahl's "ordeal" while he was held by the enemy.

But the White House may have other ideas regarding the sentencing of this soldier who "served with honor and distinction." 


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