(CN) – Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the Army soldier freed in a prisoner exchange after being held captive by the Taliban for five years, is expected to plead guilty on charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, according to reports.
Bergdahl, 31, was set to face trial this month in North Carolina’s Fort Bragg for walking away from his post in Afghanistan in 2009. He decided in August to forgo a jury trial and instead opted for a military judge to hear his case.
A guilty plea will eliminate the need for a trial, but there is no indication as of yet what sentence the embattled sergeant, of Hailey, Idaho, will receive. The desertion charge carries with it a possible five-year sentence, while Bergdahl could face life in prison for misbehavior before the enemy.
Bergdahl’s story has deeply divided the American public. The soldier has been depicted as a traitor, and his May 2014 return to the United States was overshadowed by backlash at the prisoner exchange.
He was immediately captured after fleeing his combat outpost and spent five years as a Taliban detainee in conditions described by a military expert who debriefed the soldier as the worst a U.S. prisoner of war has suffered in 60 years.
Bergdahl endured endless beatings which became worse after failed escape attempts, suffered through years of uncontrollable diarrhea, and spent three years trapped in a 7-foot metal cage, according to testimony at a 2015 hearing in San Antonio.
His release came only after the Obama White House agreed in 2014 to swap five Taliban detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay.
Bergdahl has tried unsuccessfully to have the charges dismissed and his attorneys were blocked from asking potential jurors whether they had voted for President Donald Trump in the 2016 election.
Bergdahl’s attorneys had unsuccessfully argued that a fair trial under President Trump would be impossible.
Army Judge Col. Jeffery Nance wrote in a February ruling that Trump’s repeated criticism of Bergdahl was merely “inflammatory campaign rhetoric.”
According to a motion from Bergdahl’s attorneys, Trump has referred to Bergdahl as a “traitor,” and “a no-good traitor,” and “a dirty, rotten traitor.”
Bergdahl has said that he left his platoon’s base to begin a 20-mile run, hoping that his absence would trigger enough attention to allow him to air his grievances with a general. He told filmmaker Mark Boal that he quickly found himself tangled in the hills before six to seven men on motorcycles carrying high-powered weapons snatched him away less than 24 hours after he walked into the enemy-infested desert.
Questions have lingered as to how many U.S. troops were injured in the search for Bergdahl, and to what severity.
The Associated Press reported that sentencing will take place on Oct. 23, and that troops who were severely injured searching for Bergdahl in Afghanistan are expected to testify.