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Accused US Army Deserter Makes First Court Appearance

U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl (2nd R) leaves the courthouse with his defense attorney, Lt. Col. Franklin Rosenblatt (L), after an arraignment hearing for his court-martial in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Dec. 22, 2015.

U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who was held by Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan for five years before being freed in a prisoner swap, appeared before a military judge Tuesday on charges he deserted and misbehaved before the enemy.

In a brief court hearing at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, the 29-year-old Bergdahl deferred entering a plea to the charges that could, if he is convicted, send him to prison for life. He also did not decide whether he wants to face a court-martial with a jury or one with just a judge.

Bergdahl wore an Army dress uniform with a dark blue jacket and told the judge in the case, Colonel Christopher Fredrickson, that he understood his rights and the court proceedings. A new hearing in the case was set for January 12.

Bergdahl walked off his post in eastern Afghanistan in June 2009 and was released in May 2014, when U.S. President Barack Obama agreed to swap five suspected terrorists held at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in exchange for Bergdahl.

Obama celebrated Bergdahl's freedom with the soldiers' parents at the White House. But Bergdahl's former military comrades in Afghanistan almost immediately called him a deserter and said their lives had been endangered when they searched for him in the days after he disappeared. Other Obama critics denounced his release of the Guantanamo prisoners as endangering U.S. security.

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