Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl (AP)
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WASHINGTON — The Army sergeant recently released from captivity by the Taliban is in something of a legal limbo as the investigation continues into why and how he left his post in Afghanistan five years ago and ended up in insurgents’ hands.
Senior Army officials said Wednesday that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has not yet been interviewed by the two-star general appointed last week to investigate the matter. They said he has not been read his legal rights and has not asked for a lawyer.
But the officials said the military team helping him recover from his imprisonment has told him that he is not immune from any subsequent charges, including anything linked to information he gives them now.
One senior Army official said that any admission Bergdahl may blurt out during the debriefings could be used against him. If that happens, the official said the debriefing would be halted and he could be read his rights and given access to a lawyer if he asked for one. The official said Bergdahl has been cooperative and it appears he has not made any admissions that could be used against him.
The tenuous legal line is that the reintegration team is focusing on the five years he spent in captivity, not how he got there. And Army officials said there is no suggestion that Bergdahl was guilty of any misconduct while he was held captive, so there is no reason yet to read him his legal rights.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case publicly by name.
Bergdahl, 28, disappeared from his post in Paktika province in eastern Afghanistan on June 30, 2009. Some former members of his unit have said that he left of his own accord. Bergdahl has not commented publicly on the circumstances of his disappearance. Several days after he disappeared, it became clear that he had been taken prisoner by insurgents.
The Army officials said Wednesday that the investigation launched last week into the matter will examine whether Bergdahl went AWOL or if he deserted his post. A deserter in legal terms has no intention of returning, while a soldier who goes AWOL intends to. Maj. Gen. Kenneth R. Dahl, deputy commanding general of 1st Corps at Joint Base Lewis McChord in Washington state, is conducting the investigation.
The Army said Wednesday that while investigations are usually limited to 60 days, there is no deadline on this one because the probe can’t begin until Bergdahl’s reintegration process is complete.
Once Dahl has finished his investigation, his recommendations would be forwarded to the director of the Army staff, who could approve or alter them, and then forward them to Bergdahl’s commander for any appropriate action.
The questions surrounding Bergdahl’s disappearance also complicate his back pay. His pay was initially going into his bank account after he disappeared, but at a certain point the account became frozen due to inactivity. At that point, the Army set up another account to hold his pay. Bergdahl has access to the pay in his bank account, but not the pay in the second account. And if it is determined he went AWOL or deserted, he could be forced to repay money.
According to a U.S. official, Bergdahl accumulated more than $300,000 in back pay since he disappeared in June 2009, but it’s not clear how much of that has been frozen. If it is determined that he did not go AWOL or desert his post, he also could receive roughly another $300,000 or more because he was a prisoner of war.
Once Bergdahl was back in U.S. military hands on May 31, he began to get his regular sergeant’s pay.
U.S. officials have said that Bergdahl was largely held in Pakistan by members of the Haqqani network, which has strong links to the Taliban as well as Pakistan’s intelligence service. He was turned over to a U.S. military team by members of the Taliban on May 31, in exchange for the release of five Afghans being held at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention center.
Bergdahl was initially treated at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, but is now receiving outpatient care at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. Army officials would not say Wednesday whether he has the ability to move freely on and off the base or if his movements are being constrained.