Bowe Bergdahl gets his day in court: what to expect from desertion hearing

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has been charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. He faces a life sentence in a military prison, or a dishonorable discharge, a reduction in rank, and full forfeiture of pay.

US Army/AP/File
US Army shows Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the soldier held prisoner for years by the Taliban after leaving his post in Afghanistan. Sargent Bergdahl is facing charges, including desertion, for leaving his post in Afghanistan in 2009. A hearing is scheduled Thursday, at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.

A preliminary hearing Thursday in the desertion case of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will reveal details of his disappearance and capture by the Taliban in 2009.

Sergeant Bergdahl left his post in southeastern Afghanistan on June 30, 2009 but had no intentions of leaving the army, his lead attorney Eugene Fidell tells the AP. Bergdahl wanted to “bring what he thought were disturbing circumstances to the attention of the nearest general officer,” he says.

Taliban forces captured Bergdahl after he left his post. He was a prisoner for five years before being released as part of an exchange for five Taliban commanders who were held at the US detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. 

In March, the former soldier was charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. He faces a life sentence in a military prison, or a dishonorable discharge, a reduction in rank, and full forfeiture of pay. 

During the Article 32 hearing, a proceeding similar to a grand jury investigation under civilian law, his lawyers are expected to make the argument that his years of being held captive by the Taliban were punishment enough. It would be his first appearance since being charged.

The hearing, taking place at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, will determine if the case will go to a trial by court martial.

Members of Bergdahl's former unit alleged that people died looking for him, calling for harsh punishment. Although the Pentagon says there’s no evidence of any deaths, legal experts say his actions could be interpreted as such if they are found to have put soldiers who looked for him in harm’s way.

Mr. Fidell expressed concern about the negative publicity of the case and the fact that it could sway the outcome of the case. GOP leaders and some democratic politicians have long criticized the prisoner swap as politically motivated and an illegal negotiation with terrorists.

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