US sergeant held by Taleban accused of desertion

Bowe Bergdahl has been charged with 'desertion with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty". Picture: AFP/Getty Images

Bowe Bergdahl has been charged with 'desertion with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty". Picture: AFP/Getty Images

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Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who was held by the Taleban for five years and freed in exchange for five detainees in Guantanamo Bay, will face charges of desertion and misbehaviour before the enemy in a general court martial, instead of a misdemeanour-level forum, the US Army has announced.

A date for an arraignment hearing at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, will be announced later. Bergdahl’s attorney, Eugene Fidell, said the convening authority – a high-ranking officer charged with deciding whether evidence warrants a court martial – did not follow the advice of a preliminary hearing officer.

Lieutenant Colonel Mark Visger had recommended that Sergeant Bergdahl’s case be referred to a special court martial, which is a misdemeanour-level forum. That limits the maximum punishment to reduction in rank, a bad-conduct discharge and a term of up to a year in prison.

Bergdahl walked off his post in eastern Afghanistan’s Paktika province on June 30, 2009, and was captured by the Taleban and held for nearly five years. The US Army Forces Command charged the 29-year-old Bergdahl on March 25 with “desertion with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty” and “misbehaviour before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit or place.”

Separately, Fidell, a military justice expert who is also a visiting lecturer at Yale Law School, complained about political figures who have made derogatory statements about Bergdahl.

Fidell asked that GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump “cease his prejudicial months-long campaign of defamation against our client.”

Fidell also asked the House and Senate Armed Services committees to avoid further statements “that prejudice our client’s right to a fair trial.” The House committee last week issued a 98-page report criticising the Obama administration’s decision to swap the five former Taleban leaders for Bergdahl.

Fidell pointed to the fifth page of the report that said the committee would remain abreast of the disciplinary process and ensure “Sergeant Bergdahl’s behaviour is adjudicated as required.” Fidell said he read that as a call to “hammer” Bergdahl for his actions.

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