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Bergdahl Charged With Desertion, Misbehavior


FILE - U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Berghdal is pictured in this undated handout photo provided by the U.S. Army.

FILE - U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Berghdal is pictured in this undated handout photo provided by the U.S. Army.

U.S. military prosecutors have formally charged Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. Army sergeant traded for five Taliban prisoners last year, with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.

Army spokesman Colonel Daniel King read the charges Wednesday in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. If convicted, King said Bergdahl could face a maximum sentence of five years in prison for desertion and life imprisonment for misbehavior before the enemy.

Both convictions also carry a punishment of a dishonorable discharge, a reduction of rank and a total forfeiture of all payments received from the Army for Bergdahl's services.

King said the case has been referred to an Article 32 hearing, which is similar to a civilian grand jury hearing in that it will decide whether charges should move forward. From there, it could be referred to a court-martial or military court trial.

Bergdahl, who turns 29 later this week, went missing from his base in Afghanistan's Paktika province on June 30, 2009, and was captured by the Taliban.

He was held captive by the Taliban until President Barack Obama agreed to free the five Taliban militants the U.S. was holding at its Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba in a deal brokered through the government of Qatar.

The U.S. government traded Abdul Haq Wasiq, Mullah Norullah Noori, Mullah Mohammad Fazi, Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa and Mohammad Nabi Omari for his return last year, after five years in captivity. All five Taliban senior figures had been held at Guantanamo Bay.

The trade sparked controversy after Bergdahl's actions in Afghanistan came under fire from soldiers who served with him.

When Bergdahl was released in the prisoner exchange last May 31, Obama invited Bergdahl's parents to the White House for a public celebration of their son's new-found freedom.

Some American lawmakers praised the deal at first and hailed Bergdahl.

But numerous officials quickly reversed course as soldiers who served with Bergdahl condemned his actions overseas, saying he was not a returning military hero, but a deserter who voluntarily left his base in Afghanistan.

Some material for this report came from AP and Reuters.

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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.

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