Why Bergdahl Faces a Worse Charge Than Desertion

"Misbehavior before the enemy" conveys opprobrium more suited to colonial times.

We don't yet know all his motives.

Source: U.S. Army via Getty Images

U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl deserted his post in Afghanistan in 2009 -- there isn’t much doubt about that. But the charge of desertion isn't the reason he faces life imprisonment in his court-martial, announced Monday by the commanding officer at Fort Bragg, in North Carolina. Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the maximum punishment for desertion is five years. The potential life sentence comes from a now-obscure charge with origins in the articles of war enacted by the Continental Congress on Sept. 20, 1776: the charge of misbehavior before the enemy.

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