Hearing Set For Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl After Desertion Charges Filed
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And we are also tracking the story of Bowe Bergdahl, the Army sergeant who, last May, was freed after five years of captivity by the Taliban. Yesterday, the Army charged Bergdahl with deserting his post in Afghanistan and putting his unit in danger. Bergdahl could be facing serious penalties, as NPR's David Welna reports.
DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is still a free man. Since shortly after being released, he's been posted at Fort Sam Houston outside San Antonio, Texas. But yesterday, the Army he's still serving in accused him of violating two articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Colonel Daniel King read those charges to reporters.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
COLONEL DANIEL KING: Desertion with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty and misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command unit or place...
WELNA: Bergdahl faces everything from a dishonorable discharge and forfeiture of hundreds of thousands of dollars in back pay to spending the rest of his life in prison. He might also have faced the death penalty for deserting his unit in a war zone had the Army decided to make this a capital case. Eugene Fidell is Bergdahl's lawyer. In an interview, he said he's been denied access to material the government may be using against his client.
EUGENE FIDELL: We have requested some documents from the government, and the government refused to turn them over to us. I'd like to see those before I really frame my thoughts on the case.
WELNA: The case has led others, including some of Bergdahl's fellow soldiers, to demand accountability. They accuse Bergdahl of contributing to the deaths of six American troops, who they say went looking for him after he disappeared. But it's not clear those troops, who were operating in a dangerous war zone, died hunting for Bergdahl. The Obama administration also angered many by swapping five accused Taliban commanders imprisoned in Guantanamo for Bergdahl. Fidell, Bergdahl's lawyer, says he's prepared to argue that his client should receive leniency for all the time he spent in captivity.
FIDELL: Obviously, the fact that he was held by the Taliban for nearly five years is a factor that we will dwell on as necessary. I don't want to prejudge anything, but I assume that anyone in a position of responsibility would understand that as an important mitigating factor.
WELNA: But first, the case goes to a preliminary hearing a month from now. From there, it could proceed to a general court-martial. Or there could be a plea agreement. The case could also be dismissed. David Welna, NPR News.
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