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Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will face court-martial for desertion, misbehavior charges

December 14, 2015 (Photo Credit: AP)

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has been recommended for trial by general court-martial, the Army announced Monday.

Bergdahl is charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy and could face life in prison.

The case was referred to court-martial by Gen. Robert Abrams, commanding general of Forces Command and the court-martial convening authority in the case.

A date for his arraignment hearing has not been announced. The hearing is expected to take place at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where FORSCOM has its headquarters.

"The convening authority did not follow the advice of the preliminary hearing officer who heard the witnesses," Bergdahl's lawyer, Eugene Fidell, said in a statement.

Bergdahl's defense team "had hoped the case would not go in this direction. We will continue to defend Sgt. Bergdahl as the case proceeds."

The Army's announcement comes days after "Serial," one of the nation's most popular podcasts, launched its series on Bergdahl. The first episode of the series features snippets of conversations between the soldier and filmmaker Mark Boal, who worked as a writer and producer on "Zero Dark Thirty" and "The Hurt Locker."

It's the first time the public will hear directly from Bergdahl, at length, about his ordeal.

Bergdahl spent five years as a captive under the Taliban and was released last year in a controversial prisoner swap.

He was captured after disappearing from Combat Outpost Mest-Lalak in Paktika province, Afghanistan, on June 30, 2009. He has been accused of leaving his patrol base alone and intentionally before he was captured by Taliban insurgents. He was freed in a May 31, 2014, prisoner swap that also freed five Taliban leaders from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Bergdahl was charged March 25 with one count of desertion with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty, and one count of misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit or place.

The Article 32 investigation into his case, to determine if there is enough evidence to merit a court-martial, took place in September at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Bergdahl is currently assigned to Army North on Fort Sam Houston. He is accompanied off-post by at least two NCOs for his protection, Fidell has said.

In his report, the investigating officer for the Article 32 recommended Bergdahl avoid jail time, Fidell previously told the media. Lt. Col. Mark Visger's report to Abrams also recommended the case be decided at a special court-martial.

Soldiers facing special courts-martial can receive no more than a year in jail and no worse than a bad-conduct discharge; punishments regarding hard labor and pay forfeiture have similar restrictions.

Visger also recommended Bergdahl not face a punitive discharge for his alleged actions, Fidell said at the time.

In addition to Visger, Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dahl, who was charged with investigating Bergdahl's 2009 capture, testified during the Article 32 that the soldier should not be imprisoned for his actions.

On Monday, as the Army announced Abrams' decision regarding the case, Fidell again called on Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to "cease his prejudicial months-long campaign of defamation against our client. We also ask that the House and Senate Armed Services Committees avoid any further statements or actions that prejudice our client's right to a fair trial."

In August, Trump called Bergdahl "a dirty, rotten traitor" during a town hall meeting in New Hampshire. At the time, Fidell fired back, calling the candidate's remarks "contemptible and un-American" and "a call for mob justice."

Fidell in September railed against what he called "open season" on his client as he pushed for the public release of parts of the Army's investigation into the soldier's disappearance.

"It is an understatement to observe that Sgt. Bergdahl's case has been and continues to be the subject of intense and highly politicized media interest," Fidell wrote in a document submitted to the Army Professional Conduct Council.

The desertion charge, which falls under Article 85 of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, carries a maximum punishment of five years confinement, a dishonorable discharge, reduction to the rank of E-1, forfeiture of all pay and allowances.

The misbehavior before the enemy charge, which falls under Article 99 of the UCMJ, carries a maximum punishment of confinement for life as well as a dishonorable discharge, reduction in rank to E-1, and forfeiture of pay and allowances.

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