Sgt.Bowe Bergdahl appeared in a military court on Thursday as the prosecution and his defense argued whether he should face a desertion charge for abandoning his Army post in Afghanistan.
The 29-year-old should be court-martialed, according to prosecutor Maj. Margaret Kurz, because Bergdahl acted with “deliberate disregard” when he vanished from his unit on June 30, 2009.
At the time Bergdahl went missing, he had a “severe mental disease or defect,” a defense attorney revealed.
The U.S. Coast Guard discharged Bergdahl for psychological reasons years before he joined the Army, the attorney, Lt. Col. Franklin Rosenblatt, said.
Another defense attorney, Eugene Fidell, has claimed that Bergdahl was a would-be whistleblower. Bergdahl, who’d grown disillusioned with the war in Afghanistan, left to tell the nearest general officer about “what he thought were disturbing circumstances,” Fidell said.
The prosecutor said Bergdahl had carefully planned to sneak away and had emailed family and friends about it.
The Taliban captured Bergdahl and held him prisoner for five years. President Barack Obama approved a trade that exchanged five alleged Taliban prisoners who had been held in Guantanamo for Bergdahl. In March, soon after Bergdahl’s handover to the United States, the military charged him with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.
A conviction carries the potential sentence of life in prison.
There was no decision after Thursday’s proceedings at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. Bergdahl, dressed in a uniform, did not testify. He's been stationed at the base since he returned to American soil in June.
The Article 32 hearing will resume on Friday and may continue through the weekend as more witnesses testify.
Bergdahl's defense may try to build sympathy for him, arguing that his half-decade in Taliban captivity should be punishment enough.
Republicans and some Democrats heavily criticized the prisoner swap. Obama said he felt morally obligated to rescue any American military member.
Soldiers who searched for Bergdahl after his disappearance have claimed troops were killed during missions to locate him.
The Pentagon has said there’s no evidence that anyone perished while trying to find Bergdahl.
That claim was revisited on Thursday, with Bergdahl’s commanding officer, Capt. John Billings, testifying that none of his troops died. Billings called Bergdahl “a great soldier by all accounts.”
But Billings and other ranking commanders said Bergdahl’s disappearance put other soldiers in harm’s way during the 45-day search.
Testimony and evidence from the Article 32 hearing will be turned into a report for Gen. Robert Abrams, the Army’s commanding general. Abrams will review the report and decide whether to proceed with a court martial or perhaps seek discipline via another route.