SAN ANTONIO (CN) – Sgt. Bowe R. Bergdahl, the Army soldier freed in a prisoner exchange after being held captive by the Taliban for five years, will make his first appearance in a military courtroom Thursday on charges that could land him in prison for life.
While few details have emerged in the 15 months since the 29-year-old Idaho native was freed to mixed reaction from the public, today’s Article 32 hearing at Fort Sam Houston should bring more information to light.
Military prosecutors charged Bergdahl with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy for walking away from his combat post in Afghanistan’s Paktika province, before falling into Taliban hands in June 2009.
The charges carry the possibility of up to life in a military prison if convicted.
The story of Bergdahl’s capture – and his controversial release – have remained the subject of intense scrutiny. In March 2014, the White House swapped him for five Taliban detainees who had been held without charges at Guantanamo Bay.
Thursday’s Article 32 hearing will determine whether probable cause exists to believe an offense has been committed under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The preliminary hearing’s officer will factor evidence, witness testimony and attorney arguments before making a recommendation to Gen. Mark A. Milley, Bergdahl’s convening authority, on whether to try him in a court-martial.
It is similar to a grand jury proceeding in civilian court that is open to the public.
On Tuesday Eugene Fidell, Bergdahl’s civilian attorney, said there is strong reason to doubt whether his client can receive a fair trial “given the prolonged barrage of opprobrium that has been heaped upon him over the last year.”
He asked the military to make public the executive summary of Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dahl’s 2014 investigation, along with the transcript of Dahl’s interview with Bergdahl.
“The amount of venom with which the Internet seethes concerning Sgt. Bergdahl is beyond description,” Fidell said. “In short, it has been ‘open season’ on Sgt. Bergdahl.”
In his 84-page request to release the documents, Fidell fired back against public perception that has labeled his client a traitor, taking aim at Fox News Channel, GOP presidential candidates, and the “Bergdahl is a Traitor” Facebook page.
“The defense believes it is in the public interest for these documents to be made available without further delay,” he said in a statement, adding that it has been five months since he made his first request.
Both documents are unclassified, according to Fidell.
He asked the Army Professional Conduct Council whether the defense would violate any rules by releasing the documents once they are submitted at Bergdahl’s preliminary hearing.
Bergdahl has been stationed at the San Antonio military base since he returned to the United States last year. He is accompanied by noncommissioned officers whenever he leaves Ft. Sam Houston because his immediate commander believes he is “in physical danger,” Fidell said.
“Even on the installation, there is a high risk of confrontation simply by his visiting Brooke Army Medical Center,” he said.
Fidell, who teaches military justice at Yale Law School, said the interest in the case is “greater than in any court-martial case in several decades.”
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