Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who has been charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, faced a military judge on Tuesday for the first time since the U.S. Army decided to proceed with a court-martial last week.
Bergdahl abandoned his post in Afghanistan before being captured by the Taliban in 2009. He was held for five years until he was returned to the United States in exchange for five high-risk Taliban commanders, in a prisoner swap negotiated by the Obama administration in 2014.
Standing before the judge in Fort Bragg, N.C., “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,” reports the Associated Press (AP).
When questioned about whether he understood his rights and court proceedings, he reportedly said little beyond answering “Yes” and “No.”
“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 misbehavior before the enemy, a relatively rare charge that carries the severe punishment,” notes AP. “If convicted of desertion, he could get up to five years in prison.”
The misbehavior before the enemy charge carries a life sentence if he is convicted.
“Col. Christopher Frederikson, the judge in the case, explained that if Bergdahl opted against a bench trial, he would face a panel of at least five officers, all ranked higher than the sergeant, reports CNN. “If the jury found Bergdahl guilty and elected to sentence him to more than 10 years in prison, it would require a three-fourths vote via secret ballot, the judge said.”
Bergdahl’s next hearing is scheduled for January 12 at Fort Bragg.
Frederikson said Col. Jeffery Nance, another judge, “has been detailed for all future judicial hearings in this case,” according to a press release.
“Bergdahl is now stationed at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, near the hospital where he has been treated since his release from captivity,” notes Reuters.
Bergdahl claims he deserted his post because he wanted to draw attention to leadership issues in his unit.
Some fellow troops have accused Bergdahl of being a deserter and resented the resources the military devoted to searching for him.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) and a recently released House report determined that President Obama broke the law by exchanging Bergdahl for the five Taliban commanders without notifying Congress.