At the Pentagon, officials are grappling with a resurgence of cases in which troops trained to prevent sexual assault or harassment are being accused of committing it. (Charles Dharapak/Associated Press)

 October 19
The Army is grappling with a resurgence of cases in which troops responsible for preventing sexual assault have been accused of rape and related crimes, undercutting the Pentagon’s claims that it is making progress against sexual violence in the ranks.

In the most recent case, an Army prosecutor in charge of sexual assault investigations in the Southwest was charged by the military last month with putting a knife to the throat of a lawyer he had been dating and raping her on two occasions, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.

Additionally, a soldier at Fort Sill, Okla., who was certified as a sexual-assault-prevention officer was convicted at a court-martial in May of five counts of raping a preteen girl.

A retired major general will face a court-martial on charges that he raped a child over a six-year period while on active duty in the 1980s.

The U.S. Army said in a statement Wednesday that James J. Grazioplene will be assigned a military judge. A date will then be set for Grazioplene’s trial.

The 68-year-old from Gainesville, Virginia, faces a maximum punishment of forfeiture of pay and confinement for life.

A preliminary hearing to review the evidence against Grazioplene was held in August in Maryland. Grazioplene’s attorney, Thomas Pavlinic, said by email Wednesday that the court-martial referral on all charges was an “utter surprise.” He said it was inconsistent with a military judge’s recommendations following the August hearing.

The Army did not respond to a request for the judge’s ruling.

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) — Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s guilty plea to charges of endangering comrades in Afghanistan has set up a dramatic sentencing hearing that could land him in prison for life.

Bergdahl, who was captured and held by the Taliban for five years after leaving his remote post in Afghanistan in 2009, pleaded guilty Monday in North Carolina to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, a rare charge that carries a potential life sentence.

 Because Bergdahl had no plea deal with prosecutors, his punishment will be decided by the judge, Army Col. Jeffery R. Nance, at a hearing starting Oct. 23.

Bergdahl was thoroughly questioned by Nance at his plea hearing at Fort Bragg, and the soldier acknowledged that his actions — and subsequent military search missions — put fellow service members in harm’s way.

“I left my fellow platoon mates,” he told the judge. “That’s very inexcusable.”

At sentencing, the judge is expected to weigh factors including Bergdahl’s willingness to accept responsibility by pleading guilty, his time in captivity of the Taliban and its allies, and serious wounds to service members who searched for him.

“Pleading guilty before a judge without any protection from a deal is a risky move,” said Eric Carpenter, a former Army lawyer who teaches law at Florida International University. “The military judge can sentence Bergdahl to zero punishment, but he can also sentence Bergdahl to life in prison.”

The guilty plea brings the highly politicized saga closer to an end eight years after Bergdahl vanished.

President Barack Obama brought him home in 2014 in a swap for five Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, saying the U.S. does not leave its service members on the battlefield. Republicans roundly criticized Obama, and Donald Trump went further while campaigning for president, repeatedly calling Bergdahl a “dirty, rotten traitor” who deserved to be executed by firing squad or thrown out of a plane without a parachute.

Bergdahl, 31, has said he walked away from his remote post in 2009 with the intention of reaching other commanders and drawing attention to what he saw as problems with his unit.

“At the time, I had no intention of causing search-and-recovery operations,” he said in court. “I believed they would notice me missing, but I didn’t believe they would have reason to search for one private.”

Bergdahl was promoted while in captivity, like all soldiers who are missing in action. But the Hailey, Idaho, native became the subject of a military probe the moment he was freed, and has been assigned to desk duty at a Texas Army base in the meantime.

Bergdahl’s responses to the judge Monday were some of his most extensive public comments yet.

He said he tried to escape from his captors 12 to 15 times, with varying degrees of success. Once, he was on his own for about a week — hoping U.S. drones would spot him — before he was recaptured. He said he also tried to escape on his first day in captivity.

“As I started running there came shouts, and I was tackled by people. That didn’t go so well,” said Bergdahl, who spoke in even tones and wore a blue dress uniform.

Meanwhile, Bergdahl’s fellow service members engaged in firefights that they could have avoided had Bergdahl not gone absent without leave, the judge said. Those firefights left a Navy SEAL with a career-ending leg wound and an Army National Guard sergeant with a head wound that put him in a wheelchair.

As for the defense contention that Trump unfairly biased the court-martial against Bergdahl, a ruling in February found that the new president’s comments were “disturbing and disappointing” but did not constitute unlawful influence by the soon-to-be commander in chief.

A member of the Canadian Armed Forces who works at the Saint-Jean Garrison, where new recruits undergo basic training, has been charged with sexual assault in connection with an incident involving a student.

According to a Department of National Defence news release, the alleged incident occurred in December 2016 at a restaurant in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., and involved an instructor and student.

Master Cpl. Pierre Desrosiers faces the following charges:

  • One count of sexual assault under the Criminal Code.
  • One count of drunkenness under the National Defence Act.
  • Two counts of conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline under the National Defence Act.

Desrosiers may face a court martial at a later date.

“Such behaviour is inconsistent with the values and ethics of the institution and we will continue to bring those responsible for criminal sexual offences to justice,” said Lt.-Col. Kevin Cadman, the commanding officer of the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service, in the statement.

The Saint-Jean Garrison, also known as Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School, is the site of the 12-week basic training course that non-commissioned members of the Forces must undergo shortly after they enlist.

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the soldier held by Taliban insurgents for nearly five years after abandoning his post in Afghanistan, pleaded guilty Monday to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.

The Army will hold a hearing to determine the punishment for Bergdahl, 31, who faces a potential life sentence on the misbehavior charge. He was scheduled to face a court-martial later this month.

The plea, which does not include a limitation on his sentence, will avoid a lengthy trial and may help mitigate the sentence imposed by a judge. Bergdahl opted for a judge-only trial.

He was charged with one count each of “desertion with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty” and “misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit or place.”

“I understand that leaving was against the law,” Bergdahl said at the hearing at Fort Bragg, N.C., according to the Associated Press.

“At the time, I had no intention of causing search and recovery operations,” he said. “I believed they would notice me missing, but I didn’t believe they would have reason to search for one private.”

Bergdahl’s case has generated a storm of controversy since the Obama administration reached a deal in 2014 to release the soldier in exchange for five Taliban militants held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The five militants were turned over to Qatar.

President Barack Obama held a Rose Garden ceremony with Bergdahl’s parents to announce their son’s release from captivity.

A report from a preliminary hearing held after his release recommended that the case be referred to a “special court-martial,” which is limited to imposing a one-year confinement.

But criticism of the deal began mounting. Soldiers who served with Bergdahl criticized the Army for not holding him accountable for walking off his post, letting his fellow soldiers down and endangering the lives of platoon mates who searched for him in Afghanistan.

In 2015, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he would hold hearings on the case if the Army didn’t impose punishment.

As a candidate, President Trump said Bergdahl was a traitor.

The Army opted to hold a general court-martial, which is not limited in the punishments it can mete out.

Bergdahl explained his reasons for walking off his post in the podcast, Serial, which got access to hours of interviews the soldier conducted with filmmaker Mark Boal.

Bergdahl said he initially left the post because he had concerns about his command’s leadership and wanted to bring them to the attention of top leaders. He said he was tortured and abused during captivity.

Before he was captured, he said he quickly realized that leaving was a mistake, then concocted a plan to redeem himself by trying to stalk Taliban insurgents to get valuable intelligence.

“I had this fantastic idea that I was going to prove to the world that I was the real thing,” Bergdahl said in the interview. “You know, that I could be what it is that all those guys out there that go to the movies and watch those movies — they all want to be that — but I wanted to prove I was that.”

“Doing what I did is me saying that I am like, I don’t know, Jason Bourne,” he said.