Bergdahl Disappearance Faces Probe by Army
(CN) - A two-star general has begun investigating Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's disappearance and capture by the Taliban-linked Haqqani network five years ago, the Army announced.
Bergdahl had fallen into Taliban hands shortly after leaving his combat outpost in the Paktika province on June 30, 2009.
The Pentagon announced on May 31 that it had freed Bergdahl, the last U.S. prisoner of war in Afghanistan, by trading him for five Taliban members being held indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay.
Guantanamo's chief prosecutor Brig. Gen. Mark Martins told reporters at a Sunday press conference that he reviewed all of cases against these five men, and none of them could have been prosecuted, the Miami Herald reported.
Congressional Republicans opposing the closure of the military prison camp in Cuba have nonetheless criticized the swap. Sen. John McCain told CNN, without evidence, that the White House had traded Bergdahl for "hard-core military jihadists who are responsible for 9/11."
Republican strategists meanwhile arranged interviews with members of Bergdahl's unit who would attack their former comrade as a deserter, The New York Times revealed earlier this month.
The Pentagon announced Monday that Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dahl, an Army officer with Afghanistan combat experience, would examine why Bergdahl left his post. It has not yet identified a general who would decide whether Bergdahl should face disciplinary action.
In announcing the appointment, the Pentagon said: "These types of investigations are not uncommon and serve to establish the facts on the ground following an incident."
Eugene Fidell, who teaches military justice at Yale Law School, said in an email that tapping a two-star general for such a probe "strikes me as overkill."
"It's probably a reflection of the politically charged atmosphere in which this case finds itself, but a lieutenant colonel or colonel would have been more than enough horsepower in my opinion," Fidell wrote. "It's hardly the world's most complicated or challenging set of facts."
A 2012 profile for Rolling Stone by late investigative reporter Michael Hastings documented Bergdahl's growing disillusionment with his mission in Afghanistan and featured the sergeant's last email to his parents.
"The future is too good to waste on lies," Bergdahl wrote, according to the article. "And life is way too short to care for the damnation of others, as well as to spend it helping fools with their ideas that are wrong."
In the June 27, 2009, email, Bergdahl made a reference to witnessing U.S. soldiers run over Afghan child with armored truck, an incident that Hastings said his parents believed to be a "formative, possibly traumatic event."
The sergeant left his post three days later in the early morning with only water, a knife, a digital camera, and his diary, and would become the U.S.'s only prisoner of war for nearly five years, the article stated.
Since Bergdahl's release, reporters have mined WikiLeaks-released diplomatic cables from the time and interviewed members of his unit. Anonymous government officials told multiple news outlets that a classified investigation indicated that Bergdahl wandered off base before but had returned.
During his investigation, Gen. Dahl will access "previously gathered documentary evidence, including the 2009 investigation," the Pentagon said.
Fidell, the military law expert, said that the official who makes the final disposition decision would have "very broad discretion" and likely assess whether Bergdahl intended to "remain away permanently" or thought he had "misbehave[d] in captivity."
Reports that Bergdahl tried multiple times to escape his captors and suffered years of solitary confinement could also factor into that decision, Fidell said
While in Taliban custody last year, Bergdahl wrote a letter to his family explaining his decision to leave by stating: "Leadership was lacking, if not non-existent" in his unit, the Daily Beast reported.
But Fidell said: "Poor leadership in his unit would not get traction as either a justification or matter in extenuation."
The Pentagon said Dahl will not interview Bergdahl until the "reintegration team" caring for him at the San Antonio Military Medical Center allows it.
"The Army's top priority remains Sgt. Bergdahl's health and reintegration," it stated.