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Saturday, July 13, 2024 | Back issues
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Bowe Bergdahl to Face|General Court-Martial

(CN) - Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the Army soldier freed in a prisoner exchange after being held captive by the Taliban for five years, will face trial by a general court-martial, Army officials said Monday.

Bergdahl, 29, was charged in March with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy for vanishing from his combat outpost 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 will be arraigned at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, but officials did not say when it will take place.

The government began building its case against Bergdahl at a two-day preliminary hearing in September where details of his disappearance, capture and captivity emerged.

Bergdahl's hearing officer, Lt. Col. Mark A. Visger, recommended that Bergdahl's case be referred to a special court-martial but that he receive no jail time, defense attorneys revealed in October.

A general court-martial is often characterized as a felony court while a special-court martial is characterized as a misdemeanor court.

Visger's recommendation was forwarded to Gen. Robert Abrams, the commander of U.S. Army Forces Command and Bergdahl's convening authority.

"The convening authority did not follow the advice of the preliminary hearing officer who heard the witnesses," Bergdahl's attorney, Eugene Fidell said in a statement.

Fidell said that defense attorneys will continue to defend Bergdahl, but added: "I had hoped the case would not go in this direction."

Bergdahl could face up to life in a military prison if convicted.

He recently opened up for the first time about his disappearance in an interview with the podcast "Serial."

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 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.

A military expert who debriefed Bergdahl testified at the hearing that the soldier's five years of captivity with the Taliban were the worst a U.S. prisoner of war has suffered in 60 years. He endured endless beatings which became worse after failed escape attempts, suffered through years of uncontrolable diarrhea and spent three years confined to a 7-foot metal cage.

Prosecutors conceded during closing arguments that Bergdahl "suffered greatly" but insisted that he be held accountable for walking away from his duties and single-handedly altering U.S. operations in Afghanistan.

The government announced early on that it would not present evidence that any soldiers died searching for Bergdahl.

Two high-ranking Army officials with deep knowledge of the case, including Visger, have come out against jail time.

The Army's lead investigator, Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dahl, testified during the September hearing that sending Bergdahl to prison "would be inappropriate."

The two specific charges referred under the U.S. Armed Forces' Uniform Code of Military Justice are: (1) Article 85: "Desertion with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty;" and (2) Article 99: "Misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit or place."

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