THE UNITED States Army has begun questioning Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl about his disappearance in Afghanistan that led to five years in captivity by the Taleban.
The soldier – who has been recovering and undergoing tests for the past two months – was questioned at Fort Sam Houston in Texas where he has been staying since returning to the US, said his lawyer, Eugene R Fidell.
“Sgt Bergdahl answered all questions put to him. The interview is proceeding. It has been a productive expenditure of time,” Mr Fidell said in a break in the questioning.
Lieutenant-Colonel Alayne Conway, an army spokeswoman, said Sgt Bergdahl, 28, was advised of his rights under Article 31 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. This relates to individuals being informed of the nature of the accusation against them and that they do not have to make any statement to investigators.
“This in an ongoing investigation. The investigating officer has 60 days from his appointment to conclude his investigation; however, he can request additional time if he feels it is necessary,” Lt-Col Conway said.
Major-General Kenneth R Dahl, who is heading the probe into the 28-year-old’s disappearance, questioned Sgt Bergdahl.
A well-known lawyer and military justice expert who is currently a visiting lecturer at Yale Law School, Mr Fidell described the setting of Sgt Bergdahl’s interview as “a comfortable environment,” a room with a sofa and a couple of chairs. He said there were four people in the room.
Mr Fidell said he expected this would be the only interview Sgt Bergdahl would be giving as part of the investigation.
The Idaho native was freed by the Taleban on 31 May in a deal struck by the Obama administration in which five senior Taleban officials were released from detention at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Sgt Bergdahl had disappeared from his post in Paktika province in eastern Afghanistan in 2009.
Some former members of his former unit have labelled him a deserter, claiming he chose to walk away and saying some were wounded or killed looking for him.
The investigation’s findings will help determine whether he is to be prosecuted for desertion or faces any other disciplinary action.
Sgt Bergdahl had been receiving care at Fort Sam Houston since returning to the United States on 13 June.
Earlier this month, the army announced Sgt Bergdahl had been given a desk job, ending the formal phase of his transition from Taleban prisoner to soldier again.
CNN reported that Sgt Bergdahl is assigned to a unit responsible for homeland defence and security co-operation projects involving countries such as Canada, Mexico and the Bahamas.
Officials said – given claims he deserted have not been proven – that he will not be treated “any different than any other soldier”.
It is possible he may receive up to £180,000 in five years’ lost wages and compensation for being held as a prisoner of war.
He has not commented publicly on the circumstances of his disappearance, and the army has made no charges against him.
Army officials have said Sgt Bergdahl’s family had asked for privacy, meaning they could not release more details.