SGT Bowe Bergdahl* has been charged with Desertion (Article 85 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice) , and Misbehavior Before the Enemy (Article 99 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice).
News reports such as this from the Washington Post tell us that if convicted, Bergdahl faces the possibility of life in prison. Without having seen the actual charge sheet, I’ll admit that this confuses me somewhat, as theoretically, both articles, and especially Article 99, provide for the death penalty.
Since 1942, the services have executed 160 service members. Of these, three were Air Force personnel, and the remainder were all Army personnel. The vast majority were during World War II. The last person executed under the UCMJ was John A. Bennett, in 1961, for the rape and attempted murder of a young girl in Austria.
The only execution not for murder or rape was that of Eddie Slovik, famously the only American soldier executed for Desertion during World War II.
There are currently six servicemembers facing the death penalty for convictions under the UCMJ. Four are, for want of a better term, rather garden variety spree murders. Two are rather more imfamous, Hasan K. Akbar and Nidal Hasan, both cases of “Sudden Jihad Syndrome,” if you will.
The military, while arguing against appeals in the above cases, does not currently seem to be pressing forward toward actually executing any of the above. Every death sentence under the UCMJ must be personally affirmed by the President.
*Here is an interesting aside. SGT Bergdahl was a Private First Class when he was alleged to have deserted. His promotions were automatic, under the presumption of satisfactory service, as is the norm with POW/MIA personnel. The Army now alleges that his performance was not satisfactory. Would the reduction from Sergeant to PFC be administrative, or would a conviction under the charges listed be required for reduction? Any JAG officers around?