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Court hearing postponed for Bowe Bergdahl, once-missing U.S. soldier charged with desertion

U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Berghdal was freed last year in Afghanistan after five years in captivity and then charged with desertion. (Reuters / undated U.S. Army handout photo)
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The long-awaited Article 32 hearing for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. soldier recovered last year in Afghanistan after five years in captivity and subsequently charged with desertion, has been postponed until September, Army officials and Bergdahl’s lawyer said Thursday.

The new date for the hearing is Sept. 17. It had been scheduled for July 8 at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Tex., and will still be held there. The proceeding is frequently compared to a grand-jury hearing in civilian court, but is open to the public.

[Bowe Bergdahl, once-missing U.S. soldier, charged with desertion]

Army officials said that the hearing was postponed at the request of the defense, but declined to elaborate. Bergdahl’s attorney, Eugene Fidell, confirmed that the request was made. He said it was needed to sift through evidence that has been collected, and because his team is still waiting for other information in the case to be released by the Army.

“There’s a still a lot of material that we haven’t seen, and we have a pending request for a variety of pieces of evidence and investigative assistance,” Fidell said.

Bergdahl, 29, was recovered May 31, 2014, by a U.S. Special Operations team in Afghanistan in a controversial swap in which the United States released five Taliban officials from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Bergdahl was charged March 25 with desertion with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty and misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit or place.

[For first time, Bowe Bergdahl describes publicly his harsh treatment in captivity]

If convicted, he faces life in prison.

Bergdahl, an infantryman, disappeared from his platoon’s combat outpost in Paktika province, Afghanistan, on June 30, 2009, and was taken prisoner by insurgents affiliated with the Taliban. The charges against him were authorized by Gen. Mark A. Milley, the commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, N.C. Milley has since been selected to become the next chief of staff of the Army later this year.

The Taliban officials — nicknamed the “Taliban 5” — were released by the U.S. government in return for Bergdahl and sent to Qatar. A travel ban for all five was extended recently by the Qatari government, keeping them there.

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