The charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy that now face Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl stem from his disappearance from his infantry unit in Afghanistan in 2009.
It is believed that Bergdahl was held by the Taliban in Afghanistan until last May, when he was handed over to U.S. special forces in Afghanistan as part of an exchange for five Taliban commanders who were imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Bergdahl was first sent to a U.S. military hospital in Germany to rest and recuperate. He was then taken to Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston in Texas where he has been doing administrative duties at the base, awaiting the conclusion of the case.
The next step in the case is an Article 32 hearing at Fort Sam Houston, which is similar to a grand jury proceeding.
Bergdahl was charged Wednesday with misbehavior before the enemy, which carries a maximum sentence of up to life in prison, and desertion, which carries a maximum of five years. He could also face a dishonorable discharge, reduction in rank and forfeiture of all his pay if he is convicted. He could have faced more serious desertion charges that carry a possible death penalty, but some experts say that was unlikely.
On June 30, 2009, when he disappeared from his infantry unit, Bergdahl was a 23-year-old private first class who had been in Afghanistan just five months. After he disappeared, fellow soldiers recalled, he'd made some odd comments about the possibility of getting lost in the mountains and whether he could ship belongings home. By 2010, the Pentagon had concluded that Bergdahl had voluntarily walked away from his outpost. During the five years he was held by the Taliban, he was automatically bumped up in rank to sergeant.
Within weeks of Bergdahl's disappearance, video surfaced revealing that he had been taken captive by the Taliban, who were embroiled in a bloody battle to topple the Afghan government and reclaim power. It's believed that Bergdahl was held in eastern Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan under supervision of the Haqqani network, a Taliban ally that the U.S. deems a terrorist organization. Over the next five years, the Taliban released at least a half-dozen videos of Bergdahl in captivity. Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar said at the time of the swap of Bergdahl for five of his men that it was a significant achievement for the organization.
The Pentagon initially said it was "sparing no effort" to find Bergdahl, with members of his own unit involved in the hunt for their former comrade. But the search effort waned after it appeared he had been taken to Pakistan — out of bounds for American forces. No high-stakes rescue effort was launched, mostly because of a lack of actionable intelligence and fears that Bergdahl might be killed during a raid. Instead, the U.S. kept tabs on him with spies, drones and satellites as negotiations to get him back played out in fits and starts.
Bergdahl's freedom was negotiated in exchange for the release of five high-level Taliban officials from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The five were the most senior Afghans still at the prison, all held since 2002. They were: Mohammad Fazl, whom Human Rights Watch says could be prosecuted for war crimes for presiding over the mass killing of Shiite Muslims in Afghanistan in 2000 and 2001 as the Taliban sought to consolidate their control over the country; Abdul Haq Wasiq, who served as the Taliban deputy minister of intelligence and was in direct contact with supreme leader Mullah Omar as well as other senior Taliban figures, according to military documents; Mullah Norullah Nori, who was a senior Taliban commander in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif when the Taliban fought U.S. forces in late 2001. Khairullah Khairkhwa, who served in various Taliban positions, including that of interior minister and as a military commander, and had direct ties to Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden, according to U.S. military documents; and Mohammed Nabi, who served as chief of security for the Taliban in Qalat, Afghanistan, according to the military documents.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
The next step in this case is an Article 32 hearing — similar to a civilian grand jury proceeding — which will be held at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. A date for that hearing has not been announced. From there, it could be referred to a court-martial and go to trial.