TIME Yemen

Arab League Unveils Joint Military Force Amid Yemen Crisis

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby, left, and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri at an Arab summit meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, South Sinai, Egypt, March 29, 2015
Ahmed Abdel Fatah—AP Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby, left, and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri at an Arab summit meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on March 29, 2015

A joint Arab intervention force has been formed to respond to Yemen's Houthi insurgency

(SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt) — A two-day Arab summit ended Sunday with a vow to defeat Iranian-backed Shiite rebels in Yemen and the formal unveiling of plans to form a joint Arab intervention force, setting the stage for a potentially dangerous clash between U.S.-allied Arab states and Tehran over influence in the region.

Arab leaders taking turns to address the gathering spoke repeatedly of the threat posed to the region’s Arab identity by what they called moves by “foreign” or “outside parties” to stoke sectarian, ethnic or religious rivalries in Arab states — all thinly-veiled references to Iran, which has in recent years consolidated its hold in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and now Yemen.

The summit’s final communique made similarly vague references, but the Arab League chief, Nabil Elaraby, was unequivocal during a news conference later, singling out Iran for what he said was its intervention “in many nations.”

A summit resolution said the newly unveiled joint Arab defense force would be deployed at the request of any Arab nation facing a national security threat and that it would also be used to combat terrorist groups.

The agreement came as U.S. and other Western diplomats were pushing to meet a Tuesday deadline to reach a deal with Iran that would restrict its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

The Saudis and their allies in the Gulf fear that a nuclear deal between Washington and Tehran will free Iran’s hands to bolster its influence in places like Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and in Sunni-ruled Bahrain, which has a Shiite majority. They believe the air campaign in Yemen and a joint Arab force would empower them to stand up to what they see as Iran’s bullying. The United States has sought to offer reassurances that a nuclear deal does not mean that Washington will abandon them, but they remain skeptical.

The Houthis swept down from their northern strongholds last year and captured Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, in September. Embattled Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, a close U.S. ally against a powerful local al-Qaida affiliate, first fled to the southern city of Aden before fleeing the country last week as the rebels closed in.

Speaking at the summit on Saturday, Hadi accused Iran of being behind the Houthi offensive, raising the specter of a regional conflict. Iran and the Houthis deny that Tehran arms the rebel movement, though both acknowledge the Islamic Republic is providing humanitarian and other aid.

On Sunday, the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., Adel al-Jubeir, said the Lebanese Hezbollah militia was also supporting the Houthis. The Saudi-led campaign, he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” is to protect Yemen’s “legitimate government from a group that is allied and supported by Iran and Hezbollah.”

A Saudi-led coalition began bombing Yemen on Thursday, saying it was targeting the Houthis and their allies, which include forces loyal to Yemen’s former leader, Ali Abdullah Saleh. Yemeni military officials have said the campaign could pave the way for a possible ground invasion, a development that Egyptian military officials say would likely commence after the airstrikes significantly diminish the military capabilities of the Houthis and their allies.

Yemen’s foreign minister, Riad Yassin, said the air campaign, code-named Operation Decisive Storm, had prevented the rebels from using the weaponry they seized to attack Yemeni cities or to target neighboring Saudi Arabia with missiles. It also stopped Iran’s supply line to the rebels, he told a news conference Sunday.

Military experts will decide when and if a ground operation is needed, Yassin said. “This is a comprehensive operation and (any ground offensive) will depend on the calculations of the military,” he said.

Iran has condemned the airstrikes against its Yemeni allies but so far has not responded with military action, though diplomatic and military officials said Iranian retaliation could not be ruled out.

“Iran for the first time in a very long time is basically seeing a counterattack. The Iranians were not expecting that Gulf monarchies, like Saudi Arabia, would be so bold as to confront this head on,” one Gulf official said.

The Saudi-led airstrikes “tore to pieces their game plan with regard to the Houthis, and they are not going to accept that,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

At the summit’s closing session, Elaraby said the Saudi-led air campaign would continue until all Houthi militias “withdraw and surrender their weapons,” and a strong unified Yemen returns.

“Yemen was on the brink of the abyss, requiring effective Arab and international moves after all means of reaching a peaceful resolution had been exhausted to end the Houthi coup and restore legitimacy,” Elaraby said, reading from the final communique.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said the leaders from 22 nations also agreed to create a joint Arab military force whose structure and operational mechanism will be worked out by a high-level panel under the supervision of Arab chiefs of staff.

Elaraby said the chiefs of staff would meet within a month and would have an additional three months to work out the details before presenting their proposal to a meeting of the Arab League’s Joint Defense Council. Preparations for the force will be under the auspices of Kuwait, Egypt and Morocco — the former, present and next chairs of the Arab League.

“It is an important resolution given all the unprecedented unrest and threats endured by the Arab world,” Elaraby said.

“There is a political will to create this force and not to leave its creation without a firm time frame,” Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri told a news conference.

The Egyptian military and security officials have said the proposed force would consist of up to 40,000 elite troops backed by jet fighters, warships and light armor and would be headquartered in either Cairo or Riyadh, the Saudi capital.

However, it is unlikely that all 22 member nations of the often-fractious Arab League will join the proposed force. Creation of such a force has been a longtime goal that has eluded Arab nations in the 65 years since they signed a rarely used joint defense agreement.

Iraq, whose Shiite government is closely allied with non-Arab and Shiite Iran, has said more time is needed to discuss the proposed force.

Now in its fourth day, the Saudi-led air campaign has pushed Houthi rebels out of contested air bases, Saudi Brig. Gen. Ahmed bin Hasan Asiri told reporters. Airstrikes hit Houthi targets throughout Sunday, including air defenses, ammunition depots, and heavy weapons and vehicles the rebels had taken from government forces.

“The coalition operations in the coming days will increase pressure on the Houthi militias by targeting them. Whether it’s individual or group movement, there will no longer be any safe place in Yemen for the Houthi militias,” he told a news conference in Riyadh.

On Saturday, he said the strikes had targeted Scud missiles in Yemen, leaving most of their launching pads “devastated,” though he warned that the rebels could have more missiles.

Meanwhile, Pakistan dispatched a plane Sunday to the Yemeni city of Hodeida, to try to evacuate some 500 citizens gathered there, said Shujaat Azim, an adviser to Pakistan’s prime minister. Azim told state-run Pakistan Television more flights would follow as those controlling Yemen’s airports allowed them. Pakistan says some 3,000 of its citizens live in Yemen.

Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj also tweeted Sunday: “We are doing everything to evacuate our people from Yemen at the earliest by all routes — land, sea and air.”

TIME Military

The Budget Trick That Made the Pentagon a Fiscal Functioning Alcoholic

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Erik Simonsen / Getty Images The Pentagon's $391 billion, 2,443-plane F-35 program is the costliest in history.

Bookkeeping gimmick creates a `co-dependency'

If the Pentagon needs more money—and that’s debatable—the Republicans have chosen the worst possible way to do it in the budgetary roadmaps both the House and Senate have recently approved.

That’s because they’ve kept in place the budget caps in place for defense and domestic discretionary spending for the proposed 2016 budget. While that keeps domestic spending in check, they’ve opted to fatten up the Pentagon’s war-fighting account by about $90 billion, which isn’t subject to the budget limits. Even President Obama, under heavy pressure from the Joint Chiefs, has blinked and said military spending should be boosted above the caps set in 2011. But he wants domestic spending increased as well.

The idea of special war-fighting budgetary add-ons makes sense, because while the Pentagon’s base budget trains and outfits the U.S. military, it doesn’t pay for it to wage war. But such Overseas Contingency Operations accounts are supposed to go away when the wars end, as they have in Afghanistan and Iraq (the current U.S.-led small-scale air war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, like the 2011 air war over Libya, can be funded out of the base budget). But the Republicans have basically perverted a responsible approach to funding the nation’s wars into an annual, multi-billion-dollar slush fund subject to even less congressional scrutiny than regular military budgets get.

CSBAThe Pentagon budget increasingly is being inflated with war funding that has little to do with funding wars.

“There’re a lot of different opinions about whether there should be an overseas contingency account or not, and whether it’s a slush fund or not,” then-defense secretary Chuck Hagel said last September.

The account, whatever it’s called, has become a rhetorical device: pump it up, defense hawks say, or risk crippling national security. Of course, that’s flat-out wrong. If the nation believes it needs to spend more on the military, it should hold an honest debate on the topic and then vote accordingly, without budgetary chicanery.

Hagel’s successor, Defense Secretary Ash Carter, is warning that the military needs more money beyond the $499 billion permitted by the 2011 law. But he says that force-feeding the Pentagon like a foie gras goose doesn’t solve the problem. “Current proposals to shoe-horn DOD’s base-budget funds into our contingency accounts would fail to solve the problem,” he said Thursday, “while also undermining basic principles of accountability and responsible long-term planning.”

So as the defense-budget debate continues, here are some facts to keep in mind:

1. With the Pentagon’s base-budget caps in place, its funding would rise slightly in coming years. Accounting for inflation basically makes for flat spending through 2024. The U.S. military budget today, under those caps, is higher than the Cold War average. That’s because even as the U.S. military shrinks, the cost of each remaining weapon bought and troop recruited has soared.

2. The reason the Pentagon is having trouble living within those levels is that it has grown used to pilfering its war-fighting accounts to fund normal operations, including purchasing weapons. A recent congressional report said that the Pentagon spent $71 billion of its war accounts on non-war spending from 2001 to 2014.

3. The war-fighting accounts have accounted for 23% of Pentagon spending over the past decade. Like a functioning alcoholic, the U.S. military has gotten used to the constant buzz, and is petrified of being forced to put the bottle away.

But here’s why it should stop cold turkey and get back to basic budgets:

1. Without standard congressional scrutiny, the money will be spent with even less oversight than normal Pentagon spending.

2. Because it is an annual appropriation that has to be renewed each year, there is no way the Pentagon can wisely budget for it in advance, and spent it smartly when and if it gets it.

3. Finally, counting on such a loophole sends the wrong signal. Troops are being paid and weapons bought, in part, with the equivalent of payday loans.

It also leads allies to question U.S. commitments. “We’re putting things in the Overseas Contingency Operations fund like the European Reassurance Initiative,” says Todd Harrison, a defense-budget expert at the nonprofit Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments think tank. “If we’re really trying to reassure our European allies in the face of a more-assertive Russia that we’re going to be there for them, why are we putting that into an account that’s only one year at a time?”

TIME Military

Former Senator Chambliss: Cost of Bergdahl Prisoner Swap Was Too High

Bergdahl Being Treated At U.S. Military Hospital In Germany
U.S. Army—Getty Images In this undated image provided by the U.S. Army, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl poses in front of an American flag.

Saxby Chambliss is a former U.S. senator from Georgia and former vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

President Obama should never have agreed to release five Taliban terrorists

On Wednesday, the U.S. military formally charged Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl with one count each of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy in violation of Articles 85 and 99 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. I am confident that Bergdahl will receive a fair trial on these charges, and that justice will be served.

While I was pleased that Bergdahl was able to return home to the United States last year after five long years in captivity, his release came at a very high cost. In order to negotiate this release, the Obama Administration bypassed Congress and released five senior Taliban leaders in exchange for Bergdahl. The United States has a long-standing policy of not negotiating with terrorists, and I remain deeply troubled that the Obama Administration not only broke with this policy, but also did so without the notification or consent of Congress, as required by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 and the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012. During my service as the vice chairman of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence during the last Congress, I was assured by the administration that any release of detainees from Guantanamo Bay would be done in accordance with the law and after consultation with Congress. Those commitments and the law were clearly violated by the release of these five members of the Taliban.

Moreover, it is important to remember that these five Taliban leaders, who were released to Qatar, will be permitted to leave Qatar and return to the Taliban in June of this year. These men are dangerous terrorists, whose actions have in some cases killed hundreds, if not thousands of people, including Americans. That is why I made a written request last year that President Barack Obama declassify the 2009 Guantanamo Review Task Force assessments on each of these terrorists so the American people could see for themselves the danger posed by their release. Unfortunately, I never received a response to my request. Those of us who have seen the respective assessments know and understand the danger to Americans posed by the deal struck by the administration in the dark of the night. Time will tell, however, exactly how the safety and security of our nation, as well as those serving our country in the armed forces, will be affected by President Obama’s reckless decision to release these five senior Taliban terrorists. I am not optimistic about the outcome.

Read next: A Prisoner Exchange Revisited

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Military

Bringing Bergdahl Home Was the Right Choice—Deserter or Not

A sign announcing the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl on Main Street on June 1, 2014 in Hailey, Idaho.
Scott Olson—Getty Images A sign announcing the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl on Main Street on June 1, 2014 in Hailey, Idaho.

Charles J. Dunlap, Jr., is a retired major general in the U.S. Air Force.

We leave no man behind. Period.

The Army’s decision to charge former Taliban captive Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy is reigniting the controversy about the prisoner exchange that freed him in Afghanistan in May 2014. If the evidence (which the Army has not yet released) proves Bergdahl guilty, the decision to bring him home — even at the price of freeing enemy detainees — was still the right one, as was yesterday’s decision to task the military justice process with determining his guilt or innocence.

Bergdahl’s case is already layered with the unusual. While there have been thousands of desertion cases since 9/11, such allegations rarely occur in war zones. Besides Bergdahl’s charges, the convoluted case of Marine Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun is one of the very few.

Hassoun’s lawyers claimed that at one point their client was kidnapped by insurgents in Iraq and held for a few weeks. After a return and yet another departure, Hassoun wound up an absentee in Lebanon before extensive litigation led to his extradition back to the United States. A Camp Lejeune court-martial convicted him February and sentenced him to more than two years in prison.

Unlike with Hassoun, there is little doubt that Bergdahl spent not just weeks, but nearly five years as a Taliban prisoner, under circumstances his lawyer plausibly describes as harsh. Still, as a matter of law, if Bergdahl left his unit with the intent to desert, the offense is complete, even if he later changed his mind and wanted to come home.

Much the same thing can be said about the misbehavior charge. If his actions endangered “the safety of a command, unit or place,” however briefly, the offense is complete. In other words, all the acts necessary to convict Bergdahl may have occurred shortly after his departure from his unit. His subsequent years of captivity, however harrowing, would not themselves provide a legal defense to charged crimes.

But Bergdahl’s treatment in captivity could properly factor into the decision as to whether the case ought to go to trial. Even if the evidence shows him technically guilty of the allegations, the convening authority is not required to order a trial if another disposition better serves justice. Additionally, if Bergdahl is sent to trial and convicted, his treatment as a prisoner could mitigate any potential sentence.

That could matter a lot. Consider the case of Marine Private Robert Garwood, who was captured in Vietnam in 1965 but who did not return to the U.S. until 1979. In 1981, Garwood was convicted at court-martial of various acts of misconduct as a prisoner of war, including assaulting another POW. While dishonorably discharged, no confinement was imposed, probably in deference to the time Garwood spent in captivity.

Regardless, speculation about what Bergdahl may or may not have done, or intended to do, does not diminish the rightness of the actions taken to get him back.

There is a simple reason for this: In the military, it is axiomatic that no soldier sent to foreign battlefields is left behind. We do not and should not try to divine in advance whether this or that soldier is “worthy” of rescue. We presume them all innocent, and we do everything we can to keep faith with them and get them all home. There are no exceptions to this principle.

Don’t be confused by the claims that Government Accountability Office lawyers found the prisoner exchange “illegal.” They merely found that the 30-day congressional notification requirement was breached. In addition, the GAO didn’t even consider the highly questionable constitutionality of that rule. Notification aside, it’s abundantly clear that the president, as commander-in-chief, had authority under Article II of the Constitution to conduct a prisoner exchange, as commanders have done throughout human history.

At the same time, it’s imperative that Bergdahl be held accountable for any misconduct he may have committed. When misbehavior occurs in a combat environment, it can be especially destructive to the morale and discipline so necessary for battlefield success.

Discipline is uniquely indispensable to the armed forces. As the Manual for Courts-Martial indicates, military law is different from civilian law because it intends “to promote efficiency and effectiveness” in the armed forces in order “to strengthen the national security of the United States.” Civilian jurisprudence has no such purpose.

Military law must “promote justice,” and that means that those in uniform are entitled to be judged by Americans under American standards, and not left to rot as Taliban captives, regardless of the accusations against them.

The right thing was done to bring Bergdahl home, and the right thing now is to fairly determine if any wrongdoing occurred.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Rand Paul

Rand Paul Proposes Boosting Defense Spending

Sen. Rand Paul Vaccine
Bill Clark—CQ-Roll Call,Inc./Getty Images Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks during a news conference on Jan. 27, 2015.

His amendment would add $76.5 billion to the defense budget

Just weeks before announcing his 2016 presidential bid, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is completing an about-face on a longstanding pledge to curb the growth in defense spending.

In an olive branch to defense hawks hell-bent on curtailing his White House ambitions, the libertarian Senator introduced a budget amendment late Wednesday calling for a nearly $190 billion infusion to the defense budget over the next two years—a roughly 16 percent increase.

Paul’s amendment brings him in line with his likely presidential primary rivals, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who introduced a measure calling for nearly the same level of increases just days ago. The amendment was first noticed by TIME and later confirmed by Paul’s office.

The move completes a stunning reversal for Paul, who in May 2011, after just five months in office, released his own budget that would have eliminated four agencies—Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Energy and Education—while slashing the Pentagon, a sacred cow for many Republicans. Under Paul’s original proposal, defense spending would have dropped from $553 billion in the 2011 fiscal year to $542 billion in 2016. War funding would have plummeted from $159 billion to zero. He called it the “draw-down and restructuring of the Department of Defense.”

But under Paul’s new plan, the Pentagon will see its budget authority swell by $76.5 billion to $696,776,000,000 in fiscal year 2016.

The boost would be offset by a two-year combined $212 billion cut to funding for aid to foreign governments, climate change research and crippling reductions in to the budgets of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Commerce and Education.

Paul’s endorsement of increased defense spending represents a change in direction for the first-term lawmaker, who rose to prominence with his critiques of the size of the defense budget and foreign aid, drawing charges of advocating isolationism. Under pressure from fellow lawmakers and well-heeled donors, Paul in recent months has appeared to embrace the hawkish rhetoric that has defined the GOP in recent decades. At the Conservative Political Action Conference in February Paul warned of the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). “Without question, we must now defend ourselves and American interests,” he said. Asked about federal spending, he added, “for me, the priority is always national defense.”

The amendment was filed on the same day as House Republicans overwhelmingly supported a plan to alter their budget to give billions more to the Pentagon.

It’s not the first time that Paul has adjusted his position on a foreign policy matter to find greater appeal within his own party. Early in his Senate career, Paul advocated for the elimination of all aid to foreign governments, including Israel, but after criticism has since backtracked on that proposal.

Paul’s change-of-heart on the budget highlights the importance of the funding document to many likely presidential candidates. In addition to the increased defense spending, Rubio provided a roadmap to his all-but-certain presidential campaign, introducing over 25 amendments stating his desire to deliver weapons to Ukraine, create education tax credits, strengthen pro-life legislation, weaken collective bargaining agreements and ensure Medicare wouldn’t be “raided” by Obamacare.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is considering a presidential run, pointed to Rubio’s measure to increase defense spending as an example of how budget votes will impact the 2016 race. “That’s a great amendment,” says Graham, one of the Senate’s preeminent foreign policy hawks. “I think if you voted against Marco’s amendment you’d be probably on the outside of most people in the primary.”

Outside of Congress, other GOP presidential candidates have used the budget process to insulate themselves from tough political questions. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has relied on his outsider status to avoid commenting on everything from immigration to the gas tax. In New Hampshire earlier this month, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush dodged a question on securing the border by pointing toward dysfunction in Washington.

“I think that Congress needs to pass a budget and put conservative priorities on the table,” he said at a house party. “And in that budget there are ways that you could show the opposition to the use of executive orders, and so I hope they do that, and I hope they fully fund the department of homeland security…because how else are we going to secure the border. This is the only way that we can do it.”

“I think we need to increase spending on defense and homeland security,” Bush added.

Read next: Why Rand Paul is Attacking Ted Cruz

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TIME Military

Sen. Inhofe: Who Will Be Held Accountable for Bergdahl Swap?

Army Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) is senior member of Senate Armed Services Committee.

The president has set a dangerous standard

Our nation has always, and will always, do everything within its power to bring our service men and women home and account for every last one who did not return, no matter the circumstances. Our military men and women know that when they are sent into harm’s way, they will never be left behind.

Nonetheless, the military took appropriate action on Wednesday in charging Bergdahl for desertion based on evidence presented. The nation should feel confident in its Uniform Code of Military Justice system as it reviews Bergdahl’s case and makes a determination regarding his accountability. The Uniform Code of Military Justice is critical to ensuring the rights of our service men and women are protected.

While Bergdahl will ultimately be held accountable for his actions, who will be held accountable for breaking the law regarding the release of prisoners from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba?

In executing the transfer of five detainees from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for Bergdahl, the president violated a law that requires him to notify Congress 30 days before any transfer of terrorists from the detention facility and to explain how the threat posed by the terrorists has been substantially mitigated. His failure to adhere to a law he signed places our nation’s security at great risk for the foreseeable future.

The public quickly labeled the freed detainees as the “Taliban Five” or the “Taliban Dream Team.” They were among the most senior and influential terrorists being held at Guantanamo. Multiple reviews by the U.S. military had even found these individuals too dangerous to release.

Mullah Salem Khan, a senior Taliban commander in Helmand Province, was quick to praise their release, saying it was like “putting 10,000 Taliban fighters into battle on the side of jihad.” Not even a year later, it has been reported that some of the Taliban Five have attempted to re-engage with terror networks and jihadists from their location in Qatar.

In mid-October, Afghanistan announced it had captured Mohammad Nabi Omari, a jihadist leader of the Haqqani terrorist network and the younger brother of Mohammad Nabi Omari who is one of the Taliban Five. The Taliban was quick to claim that the younger brother had actually been captured leaving Qatar after meeting with his brother.

This incident shows the Taliban Five are still well-networked, and jihadists are clearly ready to re-engage with them. The red flag is that the president only agreed for the Taliban Five to be held and monitored in Qatar for one year, a commitment that ends in a few short months.

The United States has 9,800 troops serving in harms way in Afghanistan, and roughly 3,000 have returned to Iraq to aid in the fight against the terrorist organization that calls itself the Islamic State, or ISIL. The Taliban Five exchange communicated to the enemy that our troops can be used as bargaining tools. With about 122 detainees left in Guantanamo, dozens of which Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, has identified as too dangerous to release, the president has set a dangerous standard in how he is willing to violate U.S. laws and negotiate with terrorists, as well as advance his goal of closing a facility that has enhanced our national security.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Military

Army to Try Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for Desertion and ‘Misbehavior’

Had no option if it wanted to maintain good order and discipline

The Army had little choice other than to charge Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl with desertion. Otherwise, it faced an insurrection in the ranks, corrosion of discipline—or both.

“Bowe Bergdahl is a coward,” says Rob Kumpf, a one-time Army sergeant who served in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is a refrain echoed by many active-duty troops, although Bergdahl has yet to tell his side of the story publicly. “While I strongly believe that we, as Americans, are duty bound to never leave one of our own behind,” Kumpf says, “I strongly hope that the government does what it needs to do to punish Mr. Bergdahl for his crimes.”

Bergdahl fell into Taliban hands in Afghanistan in 2009 after he reportedly became disillusioned with the war and walked away from his combat outpost. He was released after five years in captivity in a controversial exchange for five detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Army announced Wednesday that he is being charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. A preliminary hearing could lead to a full-fledged court martial.

Ralph Peters, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, hailed the action. “My Army showed some backbone,” he says. “At least some of our generals have spines.”

The Army’s decision is gutsy, on two counts: first of all, it holds the White House, which celebrated his release with a Rose Garden ceremony featuring President Obama and Bergdahl’s parents, up to ridicule.

President Obama Makes A Statement On Release Of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl
J.H. Owen – Pool / Getty ImagesPresident Obama hails Bergdahl’s return home last May with his parents, Jani and Bob.

Secondly, it means the Army could have to explain why it accepted Bergdahl as a soldier two years after he washed out of Coast Guard basic training, normally a red flag for recruiters.

While the desertion charge carries a maximum of five years imprisonment (only in a declared war can it carry the death penalty), the misbehavior charge could lead to a lifetime prison sentence. “The second charge—which is similar to ‘aiding and abetting’ in civilian parlance—suggests to me that we have strong evidence that Bergdahl may have given the Taliban important tactical information, or have otherwise been helpful to them,” Peters says.

While Bergdahl’s legal team didn’t respond directly to the charges in a statement it issued, it asked “that all Americans continue to withhold judgment until the facts of this case emerge.” Pentagon officials suggested a plea deal might avoid a public court-martial.

The Army faced grave consequences if it elected not to pursue the charges against Bergdahl. “The decision to court martial Bergdahl was probably the only one that the Army could make,” says Gary Anderson, a retired Marine colonel who served as a civilian adviser in Afghanistan and Iraq. “Any army has to have discipline at its core, and he is accused of deliberately leaving his post which endangered those soldiers who had to go look for him.”

Soldiers have alleged (although the Pentagon has said it can’t confirm) at least six U.S. troops died in clashes with the Taliban while hunting for Bergdahl after he went missing and was seized by the Taliban in Paktika province on June 30, 2009. “Bergdahl’s walking away was a large factor contributing to my son’s death,” Andy Andrews of Cameron, Texas, told TIME after Bergdahl’s release. His son, 2nd Lieutenant Darryn Andrews, was killed by an RPG September 4, 2009, while protecting a fellow soldier. They had been on a routine patrol near where Bergdahl vanished, and had been asking locals about him when they were attacked. “Sergeant Bergdahl is not a hero, and my son—who sacrificed himself to save others—was a hero,” Andrews said.

The Taliban released Bergdahl last May in a controversial trade for five Taliban detainees the U.S. was holding at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill criticized Obama for not informing them of the trade before it happened. Soldiers in Bergdahl’s unit kept quiet about his disappearance until the White House ceremony heralding his return to the U.S.

“I think he abandoned his post while the other four soldiers were asleep,” Greg Leatherman, Bergdahl’s former squad leader, told TIME after Bergdahl returned to U.S. soil (he has spent much of his time since at a San Antonio, Texas, Army post, where his preliminary hearing will be held at a yet-to-be-specified date). “He was a loner, he didn’t like to share much with anyone. Read the Koran quite a bit, which I respected. I saw it as him trying to be a better soldier, learning more about the people we were going to work with,” Leatherman said. “Turns out he was preparing.”

Charles Jenkins’ fate illustrates what Bergdahl might face, if the pre-trial hearing announced Wednesday leads to his eventual conviction at court martial. Jenkins deserted his Army unit in South Korea in 1965 and lived in North Korea until 2004. He ultimately pleaded guilty to charges of desertion and aiding the enemy. He received a dishonorable discharge, was stripped to the Army’s lowest rank, forfeited all pay and benefits, and was sentenced to 30 days in prison (he got out six days early for good behavior). He now lives in Japan.

But Jenkins was 64 when sentenced (Bergdahl turns 29 Saturday) and no one allegedly died trying to find Jenkins after he headed north through the Demilitarized Zone one freezing January night nearly 50 years ago.

The case also poses some risks for the Army itself. Bergdahl was discharged early from the Coast Guard, after only 26 days in boot camp in 2006, two years before he tried to enlist in the Army. The Coast Guard described the action as an “uncharacterized discharge,” which is typical for someone who leaves the service without completing basic training.

Generally such an event would have required a waiver from the Army before allowing such a prospective recruit to enlist. A wide variety of bars to enlistment—including legal problems and health concerns—require waivers because the Pentagon believes such recruits won’t do as well in uniform as those without such warning signs.

In 2008, the year Bergdahl joined the Army, the service granted waivers for about 20% of its recruits, usually for illicit drug use or other legal problems. Such waivers spiked as popular support for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq sagged and the Army found it more difficult to entice young Americans to enlist.

Read next: The Desertion Charge for Bowe Bergdahl Was Months in the Making

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TIME Military

The Desertion Charge for Bowe Bergdahl Was Months in the Making

TIME Photo-illustration. Bergdahl: U.S. Army/Getty Images The June 16, 2014, cover of TIME

Bergdahl's saga was TIME's cover story on June 16, 2014

Nearly a year after he was brought home through a prisoner exchange, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will be court-martialed, a military official revealed Wednesday. The charges will be “desertion and avoiding military service” as well as “misbehavior before the enemy.” An official U.S. military announcement will come later Wednesday.

Last summer, when Bergdahl first returned to the United States, the chance that he might face such charges was already clear. Throughout a time of heated debate over the resources and compromises that had been necessary to bring him home, the Army promised to investigate what had happened. “Depending on the details, the facts of the case might support a charge of desertion–one of the most serious crimes a soldier can commit,” TIME’s David von Drehle explained.

And the details were bedeviling. As the story continued:

Sometime after midnight on June 30, Bergdahl made a neat pile of his armor, along with a note of farewell, then disappeared. He left his firearm behind, preferring to carry only water, a knife, a camera and his compass. More than 24 hours later, U.S. intelligence intercepted Taliban radio calls indicating that they had captured an American soldier.

The next part of the story was recounted by angry soldiers in magazines, on television and in Facebook posts in the wake of Bergdahl’s release. (In some cases, their accounts were facilitated by Republican political operatives eager to turn up the heat on Obama.) Each version brought its own details, but a clear picture emerged of the Army in Afghanistan urgently redirected to the task of finding the runaway soldier.

Read the rest of the story here on TIME.com: No Soldier Left Behind

TIME Military

Bowe Bergdahl May Face Life in Prison if Convicted

(FORT BRAGG, N.C.)—The Army sergeant who abandoned his post in Afghanistan and was held captive by the Taliban could face up to life in prison if convicted of both the charges he’s facing, military officials said Wednesday.

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was charged with misbehavior before the enemy, which carries a maximum sentence of up to life in prison. He was also charged with desertion, which carries a maximum of five years.

Bergdahl could also face a dishonorable discharge, reduction in rank and forfeiture of all his pay if convicted.

The case now goes to an Article 32 hearing to be held at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. That proceeding is similar to a grand jury. From there, it could be referred to a court-martial and go to trial.

A date for that hearing was not announced.

The charges are the latest development in a long and bitter debate over Bergdahl’s case. They also underscore the military and political ramifications of his decision on June 30, 2009, to leave his post after expressing misgivings about the U.S. military’s role, as well as his own, in the Afghanistan war.

After leaving his post, Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban and held by members of the Haqqani network, an insurgent group tied to the Taliban that operates both in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Last May 31, Bergdahl was handed over to U.S. special forces in Afghanistan as part of an exchange for five Taliban commanders who were imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

After spending about two weeks recuperating at a U.S. military hospital in Germany, Bergdahl was sent to Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston in Texas on June 13. He has been doing administrative duties at the base, awaiting the conclusion of the case.

The exchange set off a debate over whether the U.S. should have released the five Taliban members. Little is known about what the five have been doing in Qatar, where they are being monitored by the government. Some lawmakers have predicted that the five would return to the battlefield.

Sen. Lindsey Graham has said that he received information that one of the five has been in touch with members of the Haqqani network. On the flip side, Afghanistan’s peace council in 2011 requested the release of one of the five, Khairullah Khairkhwa, from Guantanamo because it thought he might be able to help foster reconciliation talks with the Taliban.

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., a member of the Armed Services Committee, was asked by reporter Wednesday whether the charges raised doubts about the initial trade of Bergdahl for the Taliban members.

“I would think that it would raise doubts in the mind of the average American if those doubts weren’t raised already,” Wicker said.

Maj. Gen. Kenneth R. Dahl investigated the Bergdahl case and spent months interviewing unit members and commanders, and meeting with Bergdahl and his attorney, Eugene Fidell, a military justice expert who is also a visiting lecturer at Yale Law School. He submitted his report in mid-October, setting in motion a legal review on his report and how the Army can proceed.

The case was referred to Gen. Mark Milley, head of U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, and he has been reviewing the massive report for several months. He had a broad range of legal options.

Milley could have decided not to charge Bergdahl at all, recommend administrative action or convene a court-martial on more serious offenses.

Some within the military have suggested that Bergdahl’s long capture was punishment enough, but others, including members of his former unit, have called for serious punishment, saying that other service members risked their lives — and several died — searching for him.

A major consideration was whether military officials would be able to prove that Bergdahl had no intention of returning to his unit — a key element in the more serious desertion charges.

Read next: The Desertion Charge for Bowe Bergdahl Was Months in the Making

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