One hundred lawmakers have signed a letter that urges the U.S. Army not to pay former Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl up to $300,000 in back pay and benefits accumulated while in Taliban captivity for five years.
Bergdahl pleaded guilty in October to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy after deserting his Afghanistan outpost. A military judge at Fort Bragg ruled earlier in November that Bergdahl will receive a dishonorable discharge from the U.S. Military. Bergdahl was also demoted from sergeant to private, but he does not have to serve prison time – which could have been a life sentence, given the charges against him.
But, it was also reported that Bergdahl might get up to $300,000 if he is treated as a prisoner of war. Lawmakers are protesting this back pay.
Fox News recently obtained a copy of the letter, which was initiated by Rep. Rick Crawford and signed by 99 other members of Congress.
The letter reads, in part:
We are writing to encourage the United States Army not to award Private Bowe Bergdahl any back pay prior to or subsequent to separation from the United States Army.
As Members of Congress committed to our servicemen, servicewomen and veterans, we understand the incredible sacrifice that is required of those in uniform … With that said, it is our firm belief Private Bergdahl should not be awarded back pay.
Despite being given a dishonorable discharge and demotion from sergeant to private, he remains eligible for significant back pay.
Now, the Army is tasked with the decision on whether or not to give Bergdahl the back-pay, and it is not cut and dry.
Bergdahl, now 31, deserted his Army outpost in Afghanistan in 2009, was later captured by the Taliban and held captive for five years. In 2014, the Obama Administration was able to get him back to the United States through a prisoner swap. Bergdahl was released in exchange for five Guantanamo Bay detainees.
While Bergdahl ultimately deserted his Army outpost, the Defense Department had first marked him as “Missing-Captured” after a Taliban propaganda video came out featuring him alive. The Defense Department had previously marked Bergdahl as “Duty Status-Whereabouts Unknown.”
Soldiers who are captured normally are given about $150,000 in special compensation, plus hostile-fire pay on top of their basic pay at the appropriate rank during time they are in captivity.
However, because of his guilty plea, the Army must decide whether to treat Bergdahl as a prisoner of war or not; as a prisoner of war, Bergdahl would be eligible for back pay and benefits accumulated during time in captivity.
Bergdahl enlisted in the Army in 2008, graduated Infantry School at Fort Benning and deployed in 2009.
According to an Army pay chart for active duty soldiers, an E5 with less than two years experience – Bergdahl’s rank while in captivity – would make a little more than $27,000 a year. At five years, that’s approximately $135,000.
“My understanding is there has to be an administrative determination of his duty status at each point, from the time he was captured until now,” an Army official told the Army Times. “In order to figure out what he’s owed, you’re basically going to have to start from that point of captivity.”
The Army Times reported that an official said Bergdahl would only be given his accumulated basic pay.
But the Army could also decide that Bergdahl should not be paid for his time in captivity, given his guilty plea – meaning he would have to pay back his salary; and the Army could also determine he was overpaid since being back in the U.S., the official told the Army Times.
“Based upon the results of trial, the Army is reviewing Sgt. Bergdahl’s pay and allowances,” Lt. Col. Randy Taylor told the Army Times. “His final pay and allowances will be determined in accordance with [Department of Defense] policy and Army regulation.”
Bergdahl could have served a life sentence in prison. The prosecutors had said Bergdahl should receive 14 years in prison and a punitive discharge from the military. Bergdahl’s defense attorneys argued in favor of leniency, and said he should receive a dishonorable discharge and no prison time – that he has faced enough punishment after five years of captivity.
U.S. intelligence agents had testified in military court that Bergdahl was a “gold mine” of information after being released.
President Donald Trump called the decision a “complete and total disgrace” after it was ruled Bergdahl wouldn’t receive prison time.