Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. soldier held captive by Taliban affiliates for nearly five years and recently charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, will face his next court date in July, Army officials and Bergdahl’s lawyer said Thursday.
The Article 32 hearing July 8 will review evidence in Bergdahl’s case as the service weighs whether to try him in a court-martial. The proceeding has similarities to a grand jury hearing in civilian court, although it is more public. It will be held at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, where Bergdahl, 29, has served since last summer, after he was recovered in a controversial prisoner swap in which the White House authorized the release of five Taliban officials held at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Eugene Fidell, Bergdahl’s lawyer, told The Washington Post on Thursday that he requested the court date and the Army agreed. The timeline gives the defense about three months to prepare after the service recently released about 3,000 pages of documents to Bergdahl’s lawyers; those documents were assembled last year as part of an investigation into Bergdahl’s disappearance conducted by Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dahl, Fidell said. They figure to be central to Bergdahl’s case.
Bergdahl was charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy on March 25, nearly 10 months after he was turned over to a U.S. Special Operations team in Afghanistan on May 31, 2014, as part of the prisoner swap. He is accused of slipping away from his patrol base June 30, 2009, in Paktika province under cover of darkness. His motivation for doing so has never been made clear.
The desertion charge carries a maximum punishment of five years in prison, along with a possible reduction in rank and loss of pay and allowances. But the charge of misbehavior before the enemy carries a maximum punishment of confinement for life, a dishonorable discharge, a reduction to private and total forfeiture of pay and allowances since the time of his disappearance, Army officials said.
Shortly after charges against Bergdahl were announced, Fidell released the soldier’s first public account of his captivity, saying he endured beatings, severe hunger and threats of execution. He also describes his failed attempts to escape.
“I was kept in constant isolation during the entire 5 years, with little to no understanding of time, through constant periods of constant darkness, periods of constant light, and periods of completely random flickering of light,” he wrote at one point. He added that he had “absolutely no understanding of anything that was happening beyond the door I was held behind.”
Bergdahl has come under fire repeatedly for leaving his base and the subsequent manhunt for him that it caused. The search for him put lives in danger and diverted resources that could have been used on other missions, critics say.
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War-zone deserter? If so, Bowe Bergdahl joins a fascinating and bizarre club.