An initial Army investigation into the whereabouts of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl following his disappearance in June 2009 did not conclude that he voluntarily left his installation, an Army official, speaking on background, said today.
“My recollection is that it didn’t make a conclusive finding on that,” the official said.
Bergdahl – who spent nearly five years in enemy captivity after he disappeared from his base in Afghanistan — is now undergoing a “reintegration” process at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston in Texas. Officials said his current status is medical temporary duty. He is receiving full pay as an Army sergeant.
The focus of the reintegration process, the Army official said, is from the point of capture onward. “We have no reason to believe that he engaged in any misconduct during that period of time,” the official added.
Meanwhile, a new Army investigation, known as a “15-6” into the circumstances of his disappearance is underway, though an Army official said Bergdahl’s reintegration process takes precedence.
“The scope of the investigation is fairly broad,” the Army official said. “It’s really to look at all of the facts and circumstances surrounding his disappearance up to the point of capture. Depending on what the findings are with respect to what motivated him and his actions, there are several conclusions that could flow from that.”
One possible conclusion is that Bergdahl went away without leave — commonly called “AWOL.” Another might be that he deserted his post.
“It’s also possible that he engaged in no misconduct,” the official said. “We just don’t know yet. The investigation is going to flesh that out, and will make findings and recommendations based on fact.”
Bergdahl’s period of captivity has been classified as “missing/captured.” The results of the 15-6 investigation may recommend further action that ultimately could reclassify his period of captivity as something else, the official said.
“Both AWOL and desertion are violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice,” the official said. “And the commander will make the determination as to what the appropriate disposition of any allegation is, and a commander has a variety of tools available to him or her. It can range from counseling to a letter of reprimand, to an Article 15 nonjudicial punishment, to a court-martial.”
The recommendations from the investigation will be passed on to the director of the Army Staff, who in this case is the appointing authority.
“The director of the Army Staff is not bound by the investigating officer’s findings and recommendations,” the Army official said. “He can make additional findings and recommendations or alternative findings and recommendations. Because it’s the director of the Army Staff, it’s unlikely that he will actually carry out the recommendation. What is much more likely is that any approved recommendations will be forwarded to the appropriate entity to carry out.”
The Army official said the investigating officer for the current 15-6 investigation is using the previous 15-6 investigation of Bergdahl — a report that is classified — as a “starting point”.
The investigating officer also may re-interview members of Bergdahl’s unit, the official said.
“To the extent that the investigating officer believes that there are gaps in those statements or additional questions that need to be asked,” the official said, “he may reach out to witnesses that have already given statements and re-interview them.”
The investigator for the 15-6 investigation has not yet interviewed Bergdahl, the official said, and that won’t happen until Bergdahl’s reintegration process is complete. Typically the subject of the investigation is not interviewed until the end, the official noted.
An interview with Bergdahl could happen “in a couple of weeks,” the Army official said.
While Bergdahl was in captivity, he continued to receive pay from the Army. For a while, he was paid into his regular direct-deposit account like all soldiers. Later, due to inactivity on his account, the Army began depositing his pay into a holding account in compliance with Army rules.
Officials said if Bergdahl is determined to have been a deserter, he may have to pay the Army back for money he earned during his time in captivity.
By C. Todd Lopez
Army News Service