— -- Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl deferred entering a plea this morning against charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, after he allegedly deserted his unit in 2009 and was then held captive by the Taliban in Afghanistan for five years.
Bergdahl was arraigned at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and made his first appearance before a judge. If Bergdahl is convicted of misbehavior before the enemy, he could face a life sentence, while the desertion charge carries a maximum five-year sentence.
Bergdahl entered his request to be defended by civilian lawyer Eugene Fidell and military lawyer Capt. Frank Rosenblatt rather than the appointed detailed military defense counselor. His next hearing is scheduled for Jan. 12, 2016.
Sitting at attention in the courtroom, Bergdahl answered military judge Col. Christopher T. Frederick succinctly with, “Yes sir, I do,” when asked whether he understood his options.
At a preliminary court hearing in September, the presiding officer recommended that Bergdahl’s case proceed to a Special Court Martial, which would have carried a less severe sentence if Bergdahl were convicted. The general officer who led the Army's exhaustive investigation of Bergdahl's case also does not favor jail if Bergdahl is convicted at a court martial. “I do not believe there is a jail sentence at the end of this process,” said Major General Kenneth Dahl. “I think it would be inappropriate.”
But General Robert Abrams, the head of U.S. Army Forces Command, ultimately decided to refer the case to a general court martial.
"The convening authority did not follow the advice of the hearing officer who heard the witnesses," said Bergdahl’s lawyer, Eugene Fidell, noting he "had hoped the case would not go in this direction."
Bergdahl disappeared on June 30, 2009, from Combat Outpost Mest-Malak in Paktika Province, Afghanistan. His case has gained notoriety as the latest focus of the popular podcast Serial, which has broadcast Bergdahl’s recorded telephone conversations with filmmaker Mark Boal. In the conversations, Bergdahl defends his actions, saying he walked off base in order to bring attention to leadership issues that he felt were putting his unit in danger.