U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who spent five years as a Taliban prisoner after leaving his combat outpost in Afghanistan in 2009 to bring attention to alleged poor leadership, will be arraigned on Tuesday on charges spurred by his disappearance.
Bergdahl, 29, was ordered last week to face court-martial after being charged earlier this year with desertion and endangering U.S. troops, with the latter offense carrying a life sentence if he is convicted.
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His case has been controversial. Some soldiers resented the military resources devoted to searching for Bergdahl, and Republicans criticized the Obama administration for the deal that freed him in a prisoner swap with the Taliban in 2014.
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.
He will be arraigned by a military judge at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. His lawyers could push to have the trial moved back to Texas, said Geoffrey Corn, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who teaches at the South Texas College of Law.
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"Fort Bragg is one of the most combat-oriented bases in the country," Corn said. "So there will be a lot of combat veterans who will be very intensely interested in a case like this."
At the hearing on Tuesday, Bergdahl will be asked if he wants to be tried by a judge or a panel of military personnel serving as a jury.
Corn said he would not be surprised if a panel decides Bergdahl should not go to prison for his alleged military crimes.
"These are people who are able to sort out the difference between extremely aggravated offenses and offenses committed by people who just make really stupid decisions," Corn said.
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Bergdahl disappeared on June 30, 2009, from Combat Outpost Mest-Malak in Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and was captured by Taliban forces who subjected him to torture and neglect.
He left his post to draw attention to "leadership failure" in his unit, Bergdahl said on the popular podcast Serial.
In ordering the court-martial, Army General Robert Abrams did not follow the recommendation of a preliminary hearing officer who, according to Bergdahl's lawyer, called for Bergdahl to face a proceeding that could impose a potential maximum penalty of a year in confinement.
(Reporting by Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, N.C.; Additional reporting by Jim Forsyth in San Antonio; Editing by Dan Grebler)
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