By Jonah Bennett Published: December 26, 2014
Over 20,000 soldiers have dropped out from the ranks since 2006, but only 1,900 cases have been prosectued. In most cases, desertion is usually easy to prove. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has been the main poster child for Army desertion after he abandoned his unit in 2009, only to be captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan and held for five years. A preliminary investigation in 2009 determined that he had simply walked away.
Before desertion was suspected as a motive, some troops were killed in the search for Bergdahl, who arrived back in the United States after the Obama administration traded five Taliban commanders imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay for the return of Bergdahl.
“The waiting game is far from over for Sergeant Bergdahl, who had to wait to be freed by the Taliban and who now must wait longer to find out if he could face imprisonment by the military if his case goes to court martial and he is convicted. And those are big ifs,” Greg T. Rinckey, a former active duty Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG) attorney told The Daily Caller News Foundation in a statement. “The final decision on his pay and benefits will be determined by how Sergeant Bergdahl is ultimately separated from the service.”
The Department of Defense (DOD) has locked down information about the Sgt. Bergdahl’s case, saying that it “cannot discuss or disclose the findings of the investigation while disciplinary decisions are pending before commanders.” General Mark Milley of the General Courts Martial Convening Authority is currently mulling appropriate action.
Anything is possible. The case could be dropped, or on the other hand, it could proceed straight to a court martial trial. Bergdahl may even be eligible for up to $300,000 dollars worth of retroactive pay, but desertion is usually looked upon as a serious offense, and even more so in conflict zones. Death as a maximum punishment is possible, but unlikely. It’s only been used once since the Civil War by General Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1945. Information about the incident wasn’t released until nine years later.
The problem of desertion isn’t a new one. As far back as 2007, data showed that only 1 percent of deserters in the Marines and Navy were prosecuted. For the Army, the number increased to 5 percent, a figure still shockingly low. No unit exists to track down deserters and bring them in for justice. Troops sometimes turn themselves in, or are eventually caught through some low-level interaction with the government, like applying for a passport.