‘Bergdahl may face confinement, but not a significant term’

U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Berghdal. (Reuters / U.S. Army / Handout)
It’s unlikely the US military will seek a long prison term for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl who is charged with desertion, mostly because of years he was held as a prisoner by the Taliban, says military defense lawyer Daniel Conway.

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl went missing from an army base in Afghanistan in 2009, and has been charged with desertion. He was held captive by the Taliban for five years. The sergeant was released last May in a controversial prisoner swap. Bergdahl has also been charged with misbehavior before the enemy, and could face life in prison.

READ MORE:Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl charged with desertion

RT:How do you expect this court martial to turn out? Do you think he'll be sent to prison?

Daniel Conway: It’s difficult to say. We’ve seen recent cases which are somewhat similar and in which there is a sentence of about two years imposed. We’ve got some recent guidelines that show us how military judges are going to assess the case. I expect that there might be some confinement, but I don’t expect that the US government will seek a substantial amount of confinement. And that is probably mostly because of the number of years that he spent as a prisoner.

RT:Is it surprising that the US went to such great lengths to secure his release only to charge him with desertion?

DC: I would tend to agree, as Americans, and I’m sure it’s the same in Russia; we don’t leave our fellow soldiers and marines behind. So having said that, there was a real need to have him returned to American control safely. Now there are a lot of people within the ranks, and soldiers within the ranks, that believe that we paid a steep price. And I’m sure that is a part of the calculus here in terms of the decision to charge him.

U.S. Army soldiers from Task Force Denali Platoon 1-40 CAV patrol at Manzai village in Khowst province, Afghanistan. (Reuters / Zohra Bensemra)

RT:Before Bergdahl left the base he sent an e-mail to his father calling the US army "liars and backstabbers.” Do you think this had a negative impact on his case?

DC: Part of what the government has to prove in order to secure a conviction for desertion is that he had intent to leave his post. Certainly that e-mail is going to help prosecutors get inside his mind at the time he left the base. Sure, I think it is an important e-mail.

RT: The US released five Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to ensure Bergdahl's return - but the US does not usually negotiate with terrorists. Why was an exception made in this case?

DC: It’s difficult to say what conversations were being made at the highest levels of policy. I can’t necessarily speak to that. I do know that as Americans, and former soldiers, and marines we place a significant value on the lives of our fellow brothers and sisters in arms. Whatever the administration’s analysis was in that particular determination, I can’t speak to that.

RT:There have been reports that one of those released Taliban fighters has returned to the battlefield. How damaging could this be for the Obama administration?

DC: It’s difficult to say exactly what is the extent of the harm of that particular decision is, and I’m certainly not privy to that kind of information or intelligence. I do know that there was a policy determination made that we wanted this young man back. So the administration did everything in their power to make that happen. We can debate whether the cost was too steep or not but the fact remains that an American soldier is back and in custody of the US, and that is a good thing.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.