Military hearing on Bergdahl desertion charges begins

Prosecutors Slap Sgt. Bergdahl With Rare Charge

HOUSTON (AP) -- A hearing to decide if Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl should face a military trial for leaving his post in Afghanistan began Thursday - proceedings that his lead lawyer said would reveal details of what led to the Idaho native's disappearance in 2009.

Legal experts said they expected Bergdahl's lawyers to argue during the Article 32 hearing that his years of being held captive by the Taliban were punishment enough. The hearing to determine if he will face a court-martial is taking place at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, where Bergdahl has been stationed since returning to the U.S. last year.

SEE ALSO: Bergdahl lawyer wants interrogation made public

Before disappearing from his post in southeastern Afghanistan on June 30, 2009, Bergdahl had expressed opposition to the war in general and misgivings about his own role in it.

His lead attorney, Eugene Fidell, has cited an Army investigation that determined Bergdahl left his post, but not the Army, and that his "specific intent was to bring what he thought were disturbing circumstances to the attention of the nearest general officer."

Fidell said he plans to call witnesses, but he declined to say whether Bergdahl would be among them or to disclose further details about his strategy.

Military prosecutors declined to discuss the hearing.

Photos of Bowe Bergdahl:

7 PHOTOS
Bowe Bergdahl
See Gallery
Military hearing on Bergdahl desertion charges begins
SAN ANTONIO, TX - JUNE 13: (From left) Colonel Bradley Poppen, Ph.D., Major General Joseph P. DiSalvo, and Colonel Ronald N. Wool deliver a press conference at the Fort Sam Houston Golf Course July 13, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas. They are reporting on Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, his return to the United States, and reintegration at Brooke Army Medical Center after being a prison of war under Taliban captivity. (Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 31: President Barack Obama walks with the parents of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, Jani Bergdahl (L) and Bob Bergdahl (R) back to the Oval Office after making a statement regarding the release of Sgt. Bergdahl from captivity May 31, 2014 in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, DC. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was held captive by militants for almost five years during the war in Afghanistan. (Photo by J.H. Owen-Pool/Getty Images)
Bob Bergdahl, the father of freed US soldier Bowe Bergdahl, speaks following the release of his son, US soldier Bowe Bergdahl, in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 31, 2014 in Washington, DC. US President Barack Obama and the Bergdahl's spoke after the release of Bowe Bergdahl by the Taliban in Afghanistan.  MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
Supporters of freed prisoner of war US Army soldier Bowe Bergdahl including representatives of the ANSWER Coalition, CODEPINK and March Forward, rally in front of the White House in Washington, DC, June 10, 2014, to welcome Bergdahl home after 5-years of being held by the Taliban in Afghanistan. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 11: U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel testifies before the House Armed Services Committee about the about the prisoner exchange that freed Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill June 11, 2014 in Washington, DC. The trade of Bergdahl for five senior Taliban officials has angered some members of Congress because they were not informed of the swap beforehand. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 11: U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel listens during a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee June 11, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held the hearing to examine the exchange of five Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay for the release of U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl who had been held for almost five years by the insurgents in Afghanistan. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
HAILEY, ID - JUNE 01: A sign announcing the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl sits in the window of the Hailey Paint and Supply store on Main Street June 1, 2014 in Hailey, Idaho. Sgt. Bergdahl was captured in Afghanistan in 2009 while serving with U.S. Armys 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment in Paktika Province. Yesterday he was released after a swap for 5 prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay was arranged. Bergdahl was considered the only U.S. prisoner of war held in Afghanistan. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Officials say the Taliban captured Bergdahl after he left his post. He remained a prisoner for five years before being released in an exchange for five Taliban commanders being held at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The 29-year-old was charged in March with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. The military has not been holding him in confinement. If convicted of the misbehavior charge, he could face up to life in a military prison. He could also be dishonorably discharged, reduced in rank and made to forfeit all pay.

Some members of Bergdahl's former unit have called for serious punishment, alleging that some service members died looking for him.

While the Pentagon has said there is no evidence anyone died searching for Bergdahl, legal experts say the misbehavior charge allows authorities to allege his actions put soldiers who searched for him in harm's way.

Fidell has expressed concern that negative publicity that has been highly critical of Bergdahl could influence how the case is resolved. The GOP and some Democrats have long criticized the prisoner swap as politically motivated and a flagrant violation of U.S. policy against negotiating with terrorists.

Among those who have criticized Bergdahl have been GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has repeatedly called Bergdahl a traitor.

"I'm not going to dignify Mr. Trump's comments any more than I have," Fidell said. "The amount of abuse to which (Bergdahl) has been subjected to in the blogosphere and elsewhere concerns me greatly."

Eric Carpenter, a law professor at Florida International University who also worked as a military attorney, said he expects Fidell will focus on arguing that the charges should not be referred to a court-martial, presenting evidence of how difficult it was for Bergdahl while in captivity.

He said Fidell might argue that Bergdahl should be given an "other than honorable discharge" and be allowed to go home.

Larry Youngner, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney who specializes in military law, said he believes there is a "very strong case" by the prosecution.

"We can't have soldiers abandoning their posts in a combat zone during a time of war," said Youngner. "This is a hugely serious offense."

The Article 32 hearing will result in a report that will be forwarded to Gen. Robert Abrams, the commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command. Abrams will decide whether the case should be referred to a court-martial or is resolved in another manner.



More from AOL.com:
ISIS-inspired teen jailed for killing mother in Denmark
The winners and losers of the second GOP presidential debate
Obama urges legal permanent residents to become US citizens

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.