During his first interview with the general leading an investigation into his capture by the Taliban, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl on Wednesday described details of his disappearance from his combat outpost in eastern Afghanistan five years ago.
It was the first time Bergdahl, of Hailey, Idaho, had formally described those events since he was released by the Taliban to special-operations forces in May, and flown to Texas after five years of captivity.
As the session began, the investigating officer, Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dahl, warned Bergdahl that he did not have to say anything that might incriminate him. But the sergeant did not exercise his right to remain silent, one of his lawyers, Eugene Fidell, said in a telephone interview from Fort Sam Houston, in San Antonio, Texas, where Bergdahl is based and where he has been assigned a desk job.
“He has responded to every question asked of him, and he has been afforded an opportunity to tell his story,” said Fidell, who attended the interview along with a military lawyer for the sergeant, Capt. Alfredo Foster. It was mostly “just letting the facts unfold in his own voice.”
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The Army appointed Dahl to carry out what is known as an AR 15-6 investigation and compile a report on the disappearance of Bergdahl, 28. The report will be sent up the chain of command and could lead to administrative or nonjudicial punishments or court-martial. Superior officers also could conclude no punishments are warranted.
The circumstances of Bergdahl’s disappearance June 30, 2009 — when he was assigned to the 2nd Platoon, Blackfoot Company, of the 1st Battalion, 501st Regiment — turned into a political controversy after the Taliban released him in late May, after President Obama agreed to release five Taliban detainees from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
Some members of Bergdahl’s unit and some lawmakers criticized the prisoner exchange, or said the sergeant should face punishment. Those critics say that he voluntarily walked off base and that he put men assigned to search for him — through a rugged, Taliban-infested region — in harm’s way.
Fidell has refused to describe Bergdahl’s account of his disappearance, and on Wednesday he declined to say what his client told Dahl.
An earlier AR 15-6 investigation into Bergdahl’s disappearance, conducted by another Army officer, painted a critical portrait of poor discipline within his unit, and blamed the unit and chain of command for inadequately securing the area around the outpost, two U.S. officials briefed on the classified report said in June.
Fidell, a Yale University military-law professor, expressed confidence that whatever the outcome of the Army investigation, Bergdahl won’t face prison time even if he is found to have gone AWOL or deserted his post.
Army officials have said that if found to have deserted, Bergdahl could lose tens of thousands of dollars in back pay held in escrow during his captivity.
It is unknown if Bergdahl’s family has seen him since his return to the United States. Army officials have said that because of a request by Bergdahl’s family for privacy, they cannot comment on that matter.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.