The U.S. Army is denying multiple media reports that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will be tried with desertion, pushing back broadly against reporting by Fox News, NBC News and others as “patently false.”
Retired Lt. Col. Tony Schaffer told Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly on Monday that Sgt. Bergdahl’s lawyers have been given a charge sheet.
NBC News backed up those claims Tuesday, citing “senior defense officials” as saying that charges will be officially announced soon, possibly within a week.
But Paul Boyce, a spokesman for Forces Command, said that “no decision’s been made,” according to an Army Times report Tuesday.
Mr. Boyce added that Gen. Mark Milley, commanding general of Forces Command, “is reviewing now the Army’s facts and findings to determine, impartially, any appropriate next steps and possible actions.”
Rear Adm. John Kirby, the press secretary at the Pentagon, spoke similarly Tuesday, reflecting a broad pushback from the military on Monday’s reports.
Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Ronald Lewis also blasted media reports Tuesday, describing them as “patently false.”
Gen. Milley has yet to make a decision about the soldier’s case, Maj. Gen. Lewis said.
“To be clear, there have been no actions or decisions on the Sgt. Bergdahl investigation,” he said. “The investigation is still with the Commanding General of U.S. Army Forces Command, who will determine appropriate action — which ranges from no further action to convening a court martial. We understand the public interest in this case and once a decision has been made, the Army will be open and transparent in this matter.”
Adm. Kirby said during a press briefing at the Pentagon on Tuesday that Gen. Milley is under no pressure to reveal his recommendations any time soon, contrary to what Lt. Col. Schaffer had said on “The O’Reilly Factor.”
“We’re going off anonymous sources that claim to have information that, frankly, I don’t think is accurate,” he said.
One senior Pentagon official expressed surprise on over how the Army has dragged its feet in responding to the investigation findings. That investigation, known as an “Army Regulation 15-6 proceeding,” was completed in fall 2014.
“Hell, I expected a decision back in November then in December, now it’s January,” the officials said. “I don’t know. These things take time. I guess I thought we would hear something more definitive after the 15-6 was done, which actually was the end of last year, end of November, something like that, but we didn’t.”
Army officials briefed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on the months-long investigation in December.
Initially, the Obama administration tried to paint the recovery of Sgt. Bergdahl as a successful rescue operation. But that success story was tainted after soldiers who served with Sgt. Bergdahl testified in a June 2014 congressional hearing there lives had been endangered by his decision to desert his Afghanistan outpost.
Sgt. Bergdahl vanished from that outpost in June 2009 and spent the following five years as a Taliban captive. It is unknown whether he walked away from his life as a special forces soldier or if other circumstances led to his disappearance.
The Obama administration released five Taliban leaders from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in May for his release. He is currently assigned to U.S. Army North at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
Sgt. Bergdahl’s return under the fold of the military has also sparked concern for some lawmakers, who fear that the Defense Department’s Joint Special Operations Command tried to trade money for the wayward soldier.
Rep. Duncan Hunter has been trying to push the Pentagon to probe into whether the command paid as much as $1.4 million in a failed bid to free Sgt. Bergdahl from his captors. The California Republican, who also is a Marine veteran of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, made some headway last month when he convinced the Pentagon’s top inspector general to query five military and civilian officials who either knew of or took part in the covert money exchange.
Joe Kasper, deputy chief of staff for Mr. Hunter, said that interviews of those officials are ongoing.
Mr. Kasper, who has been tracking the investigation into Sgt. Bergdahl said he would be surprised if Pentagon officials try to depict him as a victim of bad circumstances when there is overwhelming evidence that he abandoned his fellow soldiers in a time of war.
Those who searched for Sgt. Bergdahl in the months following his disappearance said the missing soldier had neatly folded his clothes and left his military gear behind before vanishing into the night.
“Quite frankly, I’m not so sure what all the buzz is about with respect to Bergdahl being identified as a deserter,” Mr. Kasper said. “And that is due to the fact that no matter how anyone tries to slice it, Bergdahl left his post. It was always a difficult sell form the beginning for the Army, in this case, to identify him any other way than a deserter.”