US

Bowe Bergdahl Charged With Desertion, Could Face Life in Prison

• "Desertion with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty."• "Misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit or place."

This undated image provided by the U.S. Army shows Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. The Taliban proposed a deal in which they would free the U.S. soldier held captive since 2009 in exchange for five of their most senior operatives at Guantanamo Bay, while Afghan President Hamid Karzai eased his opposition Thursday June 20, 2013 to joining planned peace talks. (Image source: AP)

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl could spend the rest of his life in prison after being charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, the U.S. Army announced Wednesday.

Bergdahl was charged with Article 85 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, "desertion with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty," and with Article 99, "misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit or place."

This undated image provided by the U.S. Army shows Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. The Taliban proposed a deal in which they would free the U.S. soldier held captive since 2009 in exchange for five of their most senior operatives at Guantanamo Bay, while Afghan President Hamid Karzai eased his opposition Thursday June 20, 2013 to joining planned peace talks. (AP) AP

The desertion charge carries a maximum potential punishment of dishonorable discharge, reduction to E-1 rank, total forfeiture of all pay and up to five years in prison. The more serious misbehavior before the enemy charge carries a possible penalty of life in prison, the Army said.

Bergdahl disappeared from his Afghanistan base in 2009 and was subsequently held captive by the Taliban-allied Haqqani network in Pakistan. He was freed from captivity last year in exchange for five Taliban commanders being held at Guantanamo Bay.

U.S. Army Forces Command spokesman Col. Daniel King said the next step is a preliminary hearing to decide if there's enough evidence for a court-martial based on the available evidence.

Members of Congress were not notified of the prisoner swap beforehand, as required by the National Defense Authorization Act, which the White House later admitted was an "oversight." Soon after the swap, Republicans blasted the deal as one that equated a U.S. deserter with five key members of the Taliban and argued the trade should not have been made.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Wednesday's announcement of charges is a part of the process that still needs to continue.

"This is an important step in the military justice process towards determining the accountability of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl," McCain said. "I am confident that the Department of the Army will continue to ensure this process is conducted with the utmost integrity under the Uniform Code of Military Justice."

Despite strong criticism of the prisoner exchange, President Barack Obama has stood by the deal, and said he made "absolutely no apologies".

Pete Kasperowicz contributed to this report.

This post has been updated.

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