Military and Police

General Upholds Bergdahl Court-Martial Sentence

The Commanding General of United States Army Forces Command (FORSCOM) has approved the controversial sentence for infamous Afghanistan deserter Bowe Bergdahl. General Robert B. Abrams found that the sentence for Bergdahl, which controversially included no jail time, was indeed a proper sentence and issued final approval.  Bergdahl pled guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy last October and was sentenced the following month; now that the sentence has been confirmed by the convening authority, the convicted criminal will pay a $1,000 fine each month for ten months, be reduced in rank from Sergeant (E-5) to Private (E-1), and be dishonorably discharged. The sentence was originally handed down by the judge presiding over the high-profile court-martial, Colonel Jeffery R. Nance.

Approval by the convening authority of a court-martial is a unique step in the military justice process. Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and the military regulations regarding court-martials, Gen. Abrams had the authority to reduce Bergdahl’s sentence during the mandatory review phase. While Gen. Abrams could not have increased the penalty, there was a very real possibility that Abrams could have overturned the Dishonorable discharge or even removed all punishments for the guilty plea. Bergdahl’s lawyers had already announced that if the sentence was confirmed, they would be appealing the Dishonorable discharge. Under the military justice system, the case will automatically move forward to the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals for review, due to the punitive discharge.

“He knowingly deserted and put thousands of people in danger because of what he did.  We swore an oath and we upheld ours.  He did not.” said Cody Full, a member of Bergdahl’s platoon.

Bowe Bergdahl walked off from his unit on June 30, 2009, and quickly ended up in the custody of the Haqqani network in Afghanistan and then Pakistan. On May 31, 2014 Bergdahl was released as part of a controversial exchange in which five top Taliban leaders in Guantanamo Bay were released by the Obama White House. Multiple federal lawmakers pointed out that President Obama may have broken the law by failing to notify the Congress that prisoners in Guantanamo Bay were going to be released.

On July 15, 2014, it was announced by the Army that Bergdahl would return to active duty. Three days later, the Army also announced that it had begun to investigate Bergdahl’s disappearance and subsequent capture. In August, an inquiry began and, in December 2014, the case was referred for a possible court-martial. Then on March 25, 2015 the Army announced that Bergdahl had been charged with one count of desertion with “intent to shirk important or hazardous duty” and one count of misbehavior before the enemy by “endangering the safety of a command unit, or place.” The misbehavior charge was the most serious offense, carrying a potential maximum sentence of life in military prison.

After two years of multiple attempts by the defense to have Bergdahl pardoned or have the case thrown out because of things said by Donald Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign, Bergdahl pled guilty to all charges on October 16, 2017. On November 3, 2017 Bergdahl avoided any incarceration but received a Dishonorable discharge, a $1,000 a month fine for 10 months, and a total reduction in rank. The fine and rank reduction went into effect immediately, with the discharge being stayed until Gen. Abrams reviewed the sentence.

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Chris Erickson

Chris Erickson is a former U.S. Army Special Forces soldier. He spent over 10 years in the Army and performed multiple combat deployments, as well as various global training missions throughout the world. He is still active in the veteran community and currently works in the communications industry. Follow him @EricksonPrime on Twitter.

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