Military prosecutors have reached into a section of military law seldom used since World War II in the politically fraught case against Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the soldier held prisoner for years by the Taliban after leaving his post in Afghanistan. Observers wondered for months if Bergdahl would be charged with desertion after the deal brokered by the US to bring him home. He was—but he was also charged with misbehavior before the enemy, a much rarer offense that carries a stiffer potential penalty in this case. Bergdahl could face a life sentence if convicted of the charge, which accuses him of endangering fellow soldiers when he "left without authority; and wrongfully caused search and recovery operations."
Experts say the misbehavior charge allows authorities to allege that Bergdahl not only left his unit with one less soldier, but that his deliberate action put soldiers who searched for him in harm's way. The Pentagon has said there is no evidence anyone died searching for Bergdahl. "The question is: Is it a piling on?" says Jeffrey K. Walker, a St. John's University law professor, retired Air Force officer, and former military lawyer. "It does almost look like you're trying to get two bites at the same apple." The military has scheduled an Article 32 hearing, similar to a civilian grand-jury hearing, for Bergdahl on Sept. 17 at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. (In July, Bergdahl was caught up in a raid on a pot farm.)