Wed, Dec 16, 2015 - Page 7 News List

Bowe Bergdahl might face life sentence for desertion

Reuters, AUSTIN, Texas

US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl sits in a vehicle guarded by the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan in an image pulled from a video clip on the Voice of Jihad Web site.

Photo: AP

US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who walked away from his post in Afghanistan and became a Taliban prisoner for five years, is to face court-martial with a potential life sentence, the US Army said on Monday.

Bergdahl, 29, was charged earlier this year with desertion and endangering US troops and could face a life sentence if convicted of the latter, more serious offense.

In ordering the court martial on Monday, US Army General Robert Abrams did not follow the recommendation of a preliminary hearing, which Bergdahl’s lawyer Eugene Fidell said called for Bergdahl to face a proceeding that could impose a potential maximum penalty of a year in confinement.

The defense team “had hoped the case would not go in this direction,” Fidell said.

He also urged Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has called Bergdahl a “dirty, rotten traitor,” to “cease his prejudicial months-long campaign of defamation against our client.”

In a later interview on Monday, Fidell also criticized members of US Congress for publicly saying they were closely monitoring the outcome of the case.

US Senator John McCain, who chairs the Senate Armed Forces Committee, last month said that he would hold a hearing on the case if Bergdahl was not punished.

The general who is to ultimately decide Bergdahl’s fate is expected to come before McCain’s committee in the future for his next promotion.

“I think the politicization of... this case is very disturbing,” Fidell said. “And the willingness of members of the... Senate to interfere with the adjudication of a pending criminal case is appalling.”

Bergdahl disappeared on foot on June 30, 2009, from Combat Outpost Mest-Malak in Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and was subsequently captured by the Taliban.

He left his post to draw attention to “leadership failure” in his unit, Bergdahl said last week on the popular podcast Serial.

Bergdahl suffered torture, abuse and neglect at the hands of Taliban forces, including months of beatings, and confinement for three-and-a-half years in a metal cage barely big enough to stand in, a military expert testified previously.

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