Bergdahl appears in military court

2015-12-23 07:19
US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl leaves the courthouse after his arraignment hearing at Fort Bragg. (AP)

US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl leaves the courthouse after his arraignment hearing at Fort Bragg. (AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Fort Bragg - Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl faced a military judge on Tuesday for the first time since the US Army decided to proceed with a military trial that could result in a life sentence for his disappearance in Afghanistan in 2009.

Bergdahl, who was held by the Taliban for five years after he walked off a base, was arraigned during a short hearing on charges of desertion and misbehaviour before the enemy, a relatively rare charge that carries the severe punishment. If convicted of desertion, he could get up to five years in prison.

Wearing a dress blue uniform, Bergdahl deferred entering a plea and did not decide whether he wants to face a court-martial with a jury or one with just a judge. He said little beyond answering "yes" and "no" to questions about whether he understood his rights and the court proceedings.

He appeared demure, sitting mostly still in his chair, then walking deliberately with his head down as he left the courtroom. He talked quietly with his military attorney before and after the hearing.

The next pretrial hearing was scheduled for January 12 before Army Judge Colonel Jeffery R Nance, who will preside over future hearings.

Bergdahl, 29, walked off his post in eastern Afghanistan's Paktika province on June 30 2009. He was released in late May 2014 as part of a prisoner swap, in exchange for five detainees in Guantanamo Bay. The move prompted harsh criticism, with some in Congress accusing President Barack Obama of jeopardising the safety of the country with the exchange.

A preliminary hearing officer initially recommended a special court-martial, which is a misdemeanour-level forum. But earlier this month, the Army announced Bergdahl would face the more serious general court-martial.

While the military typically follows the recommendation from the preliminary hearing known as an Article 32, it's not unheard of for a high-ranking general to make a different decision, said Walter Huffman, a retired major general who served as the Army's top lawyer.

Huffman was surprised the more serious general court-martial was chosen, but he said the approach will allow the court to thoroughly consider the case with all punishments available.

"It's kind of: 'Let's let the system decide. Let's keep our options open,'" he said.

The charge of misbehaviour before the enemy was used hundreds of times during WWII, but scholars say its use appears to have dwindled in conflicts since then. Legal databases and media accounts turn up only a few misbehaviour cases since 2001, when fighting began in Afghanistan, followed by Iraq less than two years later. In contrast, statistics show the US Army prosecuted about 1 900 desertion cases between 2001 and the end of 2014.

Bergdahl hasn't talked publicly about what happened, but over the past several months, he spoke extensively with screenwriter Mark Boal, who shared about 25 hours of the recorded interviews with Sarah Koenig for her popular podcast, Serial.

Bergdahl's attorney Eugene Fidell said politicians and others have been using Bergdahl as a talking point to push their own agendas for months. The more the public can hear Bergdahl's own words, the better, Fidell told The Associated Press earlier this month.

In the first episode of Serial, Bergdahl said he walked off his base to cause a crisis that would catch the attention of military brass. He wanted to warn them about what he believed were serious problems with leadership in his unit. And he wanted to prove himself as a real-life action hero, like someone out of a movie.

"I was trying to prove to myself, I was trying to prove to the world, to anybody who used to know me ... I was capable of being what I appeared to be," Bergdahl said. "Doing what I did was me saying I am like Jason Bourne. I had this fantastic idea that I was going to prove to the world I was the real thing."

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.