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Military: Bergdahl may face life in prison if convicted

Allen G. Breed
Associated Press

Fort Bragg, N.C – . — Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who abandoned his post in Afghanistan and was held captive by the Taliban, was charged Wednesday by the U.S. military with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy and could get life in prison if convicted.

Misbehavior before the enemy, which carries a maximum sentence of up to life in prison. Desertion carries a maximum of five years. Bergdahl could also face a dishonorable discharge, reduction in rank and forfeiture of all his pay if convicted.

The case now goes to an Article 32 hearing to be held at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, where Bergdahl has been performing administrative duties as he awaits the conclusion of the case. That proceeding is similar to a grand jury. From there, it could be referred to a court-martial and go to trial.

A date for that hearing was not announced.

The charges are the latest development in a long and bitter debate over Bergdahl’s case. They also underscore the military and political ramifications of his decision on June 30, 2009, to leave his post after expressing misgivings about the U.S. military’s role, as well as his own, in the Afghanistan war.

After leaving his post, Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban and held by members of the Haqqani network, an insurgent group tied to the Taliban that operates in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Last May 31, Bergdahl was handed over to U.S. special forces in Afghanistan as part of an exchange for five Taliban commanders who were imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The exchange set off a debate over whether the U.S. should have released the five Taliban members. Little is known about what the five have been doing in Qatar, where they are being monitored by the government.

Sen. Lindsey Graham has said that he received information that one of the five has been in touch with members of the Haqqani network. On the flip side, Afghanistan’s peace council in 2011 requested the release of one of the five, Khairullah Khairkhwa, from Guantanamo because it thought he might be able to help foster reconciliation talks with the Taliban.

Daniel Conway, a military defense lawyer and the author of a forthcoming book on military crimes, said he wouldn’t expect the Army to seek much prison time for Bergdahl because of his time as a Taliban captive.

However, military brass needed to prosecute the case because a conviction would mean Bergdahl cannot collect special compensation as a prisoner of war, Conway said.