Bergdahl Prosecutors Dispute Claim McCain Swayed Them

      (CN) — Army prosecutors fought back claims Tuesday that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s prosecution was improperly swayed by public comments made by U.S. Sen. John McCain in the lead up to the decision to court-martial the solider.
     The arguments came during day two of pre-trial hearings in which defense attorneys accused McCain of “impermissible meddling” in Bergdahl’s case. They asked a judge to either throw out the charges, or rule that Bergdahl face no punishment if convicted.
     In September 2015, a preliminary hearing officer recommended that the case be referred to a lower-level special court-martial and that the former Taliban prisoner should receive no jail time. But McCain, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that the panel would hold a hearing if Bergdahl was not punished.
     In December, Gen. Robert Abrams, the convening authority with final decision-making power over the case, rejected the earlier recommendation and sent Bergdahl to a general court-martial.
     Abrams will testify Wednesday at Fort Bragg either in person, or by phone, about the approximately 100 letters that he destroyed about Bergdahl’s case. He has acknowledged destroying the letters, largely sent by the general public, by sending them to an incinerator in a “burn bag.
     “There are some questions I have to ask about the 100 or so letters,” the military judge told the lawyers, though he said he expressed skepticism about the letters’ relevance.
     Defense attorneys want Abrams, a four-star general, disqualified from the case and for a different commander to consider whether a general court-martial is warranted.
     The government began building its case against Bergdahl at a two-day preliminary hearing in San Antonio in September, during which details of his disappearance, capture and captivity emerged.
     Bergdahl, 30, of Hailey, Idaho, was charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy for walking away from his post in Afghanistan’s Paktika province. Within hours of going AWOL in the early morning of June 30, 2009, the Taliban-linked Haqqani network captured him.
     He was held prisoner for five years, wasting away in brutal conditions that almost killed him, and released in a swap for five Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
     Bergdahl’s trial is still scheduled for February 2017 but the judge said Monday that his attorneys can propose changes to pre-trial deadlines, and that the date could be changed.
     The hearing was scheduled to resume at 8 a.m.Wednesday at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

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