Bergdahl debrief ends soon, has not admitted any wrongdoing
WASHINGTON — Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has not admitted to any wrongdoing during the weeks of debriefings he has undergone since his May 31 release by the Taliban, Army officials said Wednesday.
Bergdahl is undergoing reintegration treatment at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, to help him deal with the effects of five years in captivity. That process could be finished within two weeks, said senior Army officials who spoke to reporters at the Pentagon on the condition of anonymity.
He’s currently on temporary duty medical leave to receive treatment, but remains a member of 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, based at Fort Richardson, Alaska, officials said.
Because the priority is recovery, he has not been questioned about the circumstances of his 2009 disappearance from a remote outpost in Afghanistan’s Paktika province, officials said.
However, a spontaneous admission that he voluntarily left would be usable in legal or disciplinary proceedings, they said.
Should he make an incriminating statement, debriefing would end and he would be informed of his legal rights, including the right to representation, officials said. But as of now, Bergdahl has not requested a lawyer and has not yet been informed of his rights under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, they said. Former members of his unit have charged that soldiers were killed and injured during operations, including searches, that resulted from his disappearance.
“The focus of the reintegration briefing is on point of capture forward,” an Army officials said. “We have no reason to believe he has engaged in any misconduct. You don’t advise an individual of his or her rights until you believe they’ve engaged in criminal misconduct.”
Once reintegration ends, he’ll likely be questioned by Army investigators attempting to piece together what happened before and after his disappearance.
A preliminary 2009 investigation by the Army concluded he walked off his post. The Army last week appointed a two-star general to begin a new investigation to delve further into the matter. The results are due in August.
A key question the investigation will seek to answer is whether Bergdahl should be classified as having been a prisoner during his ordeal, or if he was absent without leave or a deserter.
The decision on whether to charge him with wrongdoing will be made by a senior Army commander reviewing of the current investigation, which must be completed by mid-August.
If Bergdahl is found to have been AWOL or a deserter, penalties could range from a court-martial and jail time to being administratively separated from the Army with an other-than-honorable discharge.
“The military justice system doesn’t have strict rules about how cases are supposed to be handled, so you could potentially have a deserter who just gets an administrative discharge,” Eugene Fidell, who teaches military law at Yale University, told Stars and Stripes earlier this month.
The determination of his status during those five years of captivity will have an affect on his pay, however. If he’s found to have been a prisoner, he’s eligible for hundreds of thousands of dollars of back pay and prisoner of war benefits.
If he deserted or was AWOL, he’ll end up owing the military for pay he accrued during captivity.