POLITICS

Army Sets Date For Bowe Bergdahl Court Martial

Bergdahl could face a life sentence.

AUSTIN, Texas, Dec 17 (Reuters) - U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who walked away from his post in Afghanistan and became a Taliban prisoner for five years, will be arraigned at Fort Bragg on Dec. 22 in a court-martial with a potential life sentence, the Army said on Thursday.

Bergdahl, 29, was charged earlier this year with desertion and endangering U.S. troops and could face the life sentence if convicted of the latter, more serious offense.

The arraignment hearing will take place at a courtroom on the Army post in North Carolina, U.S. Army Forces Command said in a statement.

In ordering the court martial on Monday, Army General Robert Abrams did not follow the recommendation of a preliminary hearing which, according to Bergdahl's lawyer, called for Bergdahl to face a proceeding that could impose a potential maximum penalty of a year in confinement.

Bergdahl's lawyer, Eugene Fidell, said the defense team "had hoped the case would not go in this direction."

Bergdahl disappeared on foot on June 30, 2009, from Combat Outpost Mest-Malak in Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and was subsequently captured by the Taliban.

He left his post to draw attention to "leadership failure" in his unit, Bergdahl said last week on the popular podcast Serial, which is focusing a season on his case.

The Idaho native suffered torture, abuse and neglect at the hands of Taliban forces, including months of beatings and being confined for 3-1/2 years to a metal cage barely big enough to stand in, a military expert testified previously.

The head of the Army team that investigated Bergdahl has said he does not believe he should face jail time.

The official search for Bergdahl lasted 45 days, but the United States spent years trying to determine his whereabouts and bring him home.

He was freed in a prisoner swap in May 2014 that sent five Taliban leaders held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay to Qatar, where they had to remain for a year. The deal drew heavy criticism from Republicans.

Major General Kenneth Dahl, who led the military's investigation of Bergdahl's case, testified at a military probable cause hearing in September that Bergdahl was not a Taliban sympathizer and no soldiers directly involved in the search for him were killed.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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