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Tuesday 30 September 2014

Freed soldier 'may face charges'

Published 03/06/2014 | 06:52

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Sgt Bowe Bergdahl's parents, Jani and Bob, after their son's release from captivity (AP)
Sgt Bowe Bergdahl's parents, Jani and Bob, after their son's release from captivity (AP)

The US Army may still pursue an investigation that could lead to desertion or other charges against Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who was freed from five years of Taliban captivity in a prisoner exchange last weekend, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

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Gen Dempsey also said that Sgt Bergdahl's next promotion to staff sergeant, which was set to happen soon, is no longer automatic because he is not missing in action any longer.

Speaking publicly for the first time about the case, Gen Dempsey said he does not want to prejudge the outcome of any investigation or say anything that might influence a commander's decision.

But he said US military leaders "have been accused of looking away from misconduct, and it's premature" to assume they would do so in Sgt Bergdahl's case, despite the soldier's five years as a Taliban prisoner.

Sgt Bergdahl was handed over to US Army special forces Saturday in exchange for the release of five detainees at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba detention facility.

Service members who are missing in action routinely continue to be promoted on the same schedule as their peers. But, Gen Dempsey said "his status has now changed, and therefore the requirements for promotion are more consistent with normal duty status".

As a result, he said, other things needed for promotion, such as proper levels of education and job performance, would now apply. That makes Sgt Bergdahl's promotion less automatic.

There are a variety of offences related to an absence without proper approval, and a number of potential actions could be taken by the military.

He could be tried by court martial under the Uniform Code of Military Justice for desertion; he could be given a non-judicial punishment for a lesser charge, such as being away without leave. And he could be given credit for time already served while he was a prisoner.

Gen Dempsey stressed that any decision would be up to the US Army.

He said he has not yet spoken to Sgt Bergdahl or his parents since the release, noting that medical personnel want him to come to grips first with his new freedom and status.

Members of Sgt Bergdahl's unit and military officials have complained that his decision to leave his base unarmed put his fellow soldiers in danger and that some were killed in missions that included looking for him.

Press Association

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