Bowe Bergdahl: Both sides present arguments on court-martial
SAN ANTONIO — Should Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl face a military court-martial?
That was the question Thursday as arguments were presented on whether a court-martial should be initiated over his disappearance from a base in Afghanistan.
Bergdahl vanished in June 2009 after he deserted his unit, authorities said.
The incident set off a series of events that included his five-year capture by the Taliban. President Barack Obama later freed five members of the terror network held at Guantanamo Bay in exchange for Bergdahl last year.
As part of the controversial prisoner swap, Bergdahl returned to the United States. In March, the military charged him with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.
The Army Article 32 preliminary hearing is happening at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston in Texas.
It ended Thursday without a decision. The hearing is expected to resume Friday morning.
5 Taliban detainees for Bergdahl
At the hearing, the defense cross-examined his former platoon leader, Capt. John Billings. One of Bergdahl’s lawyers, Lt. Col. Franklin Rosenblatt, asked Billings if he knew of Bergdahl’s previous discharge from the U.S. Coast Guard on psychological grounds or that the Army waived his psychological status when he enlisted.
Billings replied that he was unaware.
Some in the military and those who fought alongside Bergdahl in Afghanistan blasted the prisoner swap deal.
Obama has hailed Bergdahl’s safe return to the United States.
“Sgt. Bergdahl has missed birthdays and holidays and the simple moments with family and friends,” the President said when the soldier returned.
But Bergdahl faces the prospect of never spending another birthday or holiday outside of prison.
If his case goes to court-martial and he is found guilty of misbehavior before the enemy, he faces a potential maximum penalty of life in prison.
A court-martial would put the White House in a precarious situation. It has steadfastly defended the decision to recover him amid backlash from Republicans and some who served with him in Afghanistan.
At the time of his recovery, U.S. officials said Obama’s national security team was unanimous in its support of the prisoner exchange that ultimately returned Bergdahl to the United States.
Concerns about his physical health prompted them to circumvent a requirement to notify Congress about pending prisoner releases, authorities said at the time.
Obama cited a “sacred rule” in attempting to rescue American servicemen and -women, no matter the circumstances surrounding their capture.
“We still get an American soldier back if he’s held in captivity. Period. Full stop. We don’t condition that,” he said at the time.
Some members of Bergdahl’s unit have accused him of purposely abandoning his post before being taken captive in remote Afghanistan. Some suggested the U.S. effort to rescue him was misguided.
Allegations that he abandoned his post were well known before his rescue became public, though they hadn’t yet been subject to the type of Army investigation that followed his return.
The White House has expressed no regret at the decision to swap the Idaho native with Taliban prisoners.