Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's defense against a desertion charge will rely in part on his claim that he walked off his post in Afghanistan in an attempt to reach another U.S. base to report on wrongdoing in his unit.
The whistleblower argument has been put forward in a memo from Bergdahl's lawyer, military law specialist Eugene Fidell, and CNN reported Friday that senior Defense Department officials confirmed that Bergdahl's claim was included in an Army investigation of the case by Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dahl.
Dahl's report went to Gen. Mark Milley, head of the Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, N.C., , who earlier this week authorized charges of one count of desertion and one count of misbehavior before the enemy against Bergdahl.
The senior Defense officials cited by CNN said that Bergdahl claimed to be concerned about problems with "order and discipline" at Combat Outpost Mest-Lalak in Paktika province and also had concerns about "leadership issues at his base."
One of the Defense officials said "This was a kid who had leadership concerns on his mind. He wasn't fed up, he wasn't planning to desert," CNN reported.
Fidell's memo cited by Bloomberg News made a similar argument against the desertion charge in commenting on the report by Maj. Gen. Dahl, who interviewed Bergdahl extensively at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston last year.
"While hedging its bets, the (Dahl) report basically concludes that Sgt. Bergdahl did not intend to remain away from the Army permanently, as classic 'long' desertion requires," the Fidell memo said.
"It also concludes that his specific intent was to bring what he thought were disturbing circumstances to the attention of the nearest general officer," the memo said.
Dahl's report has not been released and Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, declined comment Friday on the Dahl report or Bergdahl's claims.
The 28-year-old Bergdahl went missing in June 2009 and was released last May 31 in a controversial prisoner exchange for five Taliban prisoners at the Guantanam Bay, Cuba, detention facility.
Members of Bergdahl's unit have charged that he was a discipline problem and a poor soldier who packed up his equipment and left it behind before going missing.
In 2012, Bergdahl's father, Bob Bergdahl, disclosed a series of emails from his son to Rolling Stone magazine.
Bowe Bergdahl wrote that three "good" sergeants in his unit had been forced to move to another company and that his battalion commander was a "conceited old fool."
Bergdahl said of the mission in Afghanistan that "I am sorry for everything. The horror that is America is disgusting."
Fidell has said that an Article 32 hearing on whether there was sufficient evidence to proceed to court martial against Bergdahl was expected to begin April 22 at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston but the Pentagon on Friday said no firm date had been said. The maximum penalty on the count of misbehavior before the enemy was life imprisonment.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at email@example.com