Bergdahl: A criminal or victim of vengeance and politics?

U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Berghdal © U.S. Army
Why is Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl charged with “misbehaving before the enemy”? Is this case politically motivated and if so what message is it supposed to send to others? To find answers for these questions RT spoke with several experts.

A US sergeant known for being critical of the US army is facing fresh charges. Bowe Bergdahl is now being charged with the rare count of "misbehavior before the enemy" something which carries a life sentence. He spent five years in Taliban captivity after deserting his post. He was eventually exchanged for several Guantanamo detainees.

READ MORE: Former POW Bergdahl faces rare 'misbehavior before the enemy' charge

Walter B. Huffman, Dean Emeritus and Professor of Law, suggests that the case of Bowe Bergdahl deals with two charges – desertion and misbehavior before the enemy – and they have totally different concepts.

RT: Why is Bergdahl being hit with the archaic “misbehaving before the enemy” charge? What’s the legal basis being cited?

Walter B. Huffman: This is a charge that has been used many times in the past. It is Article 99 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and deals with various instances of misbehavior before the enemy, which is the allegation that the army is making against Bowe Bergdahl. Actually there are two allegations, one of them is desertion from the military and the other is this misbehavior before the enemy charge which is significantly different than desertion, because desertion only deals with that one individual’s actions, whereas this misbehavior before the enemy charge - the specifics of the charge are that he left his unit thereby exposing his unit to danger because they had one less soldier, and by leaving his unit and causing a search for him he put members of his unit in danger. So this charge really reflects more what his actions did to put other people and other units, his unit, in harm’s way, as opposed to the simple charge of desertion which deals only with his own action.

RT: Bergdahl's lawyer argues his client is being charged twice for the same action. Do you agree with that?

WH: No, he is wrong on that and the reason that he is wrong is because this deals with two charges – desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. The two charges deal with totally different concepts. Again, desertion is an individual action, individual responsibility. That person left his unit without authority – that’s all that’s required. Secondly, in a misbehavior charge the allegation is that by leaving his unit he endangered his unit, other members of the unit, not just himself, by leaving them shorthanded without one soldier they were supposed to have, and further by causing them to search for him in hostile territory thereby subjecting members of his unit to potential harm. So the second charge deals with what happens to other people, why your actions impacted negatively other people. The first charge – desertion – deals only with what you did to yourself.

Signs of support with images of U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl are displayed outside Zaney's coffee shop in Hailey, Idaho, May 31, 2014. © Patrick Sweeney

Richard Becker from ANSWER coalition says that those who should be facing charges are the people who have created wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria, but instead they wreak vengeance on the lower ranking people in order to set a lesson for other soldiers.

RT: Why do you think misbehavior before the enemy is being used as the charge in this case, even though it's rarely been used since WWII?

Richard Becker: I think that the military brass - and these are decisions that are not made at local levels, they are made very high up in the Pentagon - they are trying to take vengeance against Bergdahl. Apparently, he became disenchanted with the war, turned against the war after being there for a period of time, felt friendly feelings toward the Afghan people. He went through a very difficult period, no matter how it was that he left the base and ended up in the custody of the Taliban, those who are resisting the occupation. But the people who really should be facing charges and the people who have created these wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, the higher ups, but instead they wreak vengeance on the lower ranking people in order to set a lesson for other soldiers.

Human rights activist Ajamu Baraka suggests that the case of Bergdahl is politically motivated meant to convey a message and to satisfy some of the political hawks in Congress and in the Pentagon.

RT: How will the wider attention Bergdahl's case is getting affect the trial? Is Bergdahl really a threat to anybody or anything?

Ajamu Baraka: The threat that some believe he poses is not of course a physical threat, but it is the threat of his example. They want to make sure that any soldiers in the future who find themselves in a similar situation and decide to leave their post that they remember the maximum penalty that it could result in. So it is a penalty and a charge meant to convey a message.

RT: How politicized is this case, to your mind? Will his harsh comments about the military during his time in Taliban captivity play a role?

AB: It’s being used again as an example to be imposed on this young man. It is a message to soldiers in the future that if they allow themselves to be in a position very similar to Bergdahl’s, they will be subjected to the maximum pressure, the maximum penalty of the law. So that is a political charge meant to convey a message and meant to satisfy some of the political hawks in the Congress and in the Pentagon who are quite upset that the US authorities were required to swap five individuals, five Taliban members in order to secure the release of Sergeant Bergdahl. So it is primarily politically motivated with a message contained in this behavior for soldiers in the future in the US.

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