Ex-POW Bergdahl did not try to desert U.S. Army, his lawyer says

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 27, 2015 6:00 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was trying to find a U.S. general officer to report a disturbing situation when he left his combat outpost in Afghanistan and was captured by the Taliban, and he did not intend to desert, according to his attorney.

Eugene Fidell, the attorney leading Bergdahl's defense, said in a letter released this week that the Army major general who investigated Bergdahl's capture in Afghanistan found he did not intend to remain away from his base permanently.

Bergdahl disappeared in June, 2009 from a combat post in Paktika Province in eastern Afghanistan and was captured by the Taliban. He spent five years as a prisoner of war before he was freed last summer in a prisoner swap that angered members of congress members and some members of his unit.

After an investigation of the circumstances of his capture, Bergdahl was charged this week with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, counts that could lead to life in prison.

Documents released by his defense lawyers suggested the tack they may take in defending Bergdahl. The papers also included a statement from Bergdahl about his attempts to escape from his Taliban captors and his beatings while a prisoner.

In a March 2 letter to Army General Mark Milley, who was responsible for deciding how to proceed with the case, Fidell said an investigation by an Army major general had concluded that Bergdahl did not plan to desert.

"While hedging its bets, the report basically concludes that Sergeant Bergdahl did not intend to remain away from the Army permanently, as classic 'long' desertion requires," Fidell wrote.

"It also concludes that his specific intent was to bring what he thought were disturbing circumstances to the attention of the nearest general office," he added. Fidell declined to elaborate further on Friday.

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Bergdahl was released in exchange for five Taliban leaders held at Guantanamo Bay. They were sent to Qatar and had to remain there for a year.

Some U.S. lawmakers were angered by Bergdahl's release because they were not given 30 days notice before the transfer of the Guantanamo prisoners, as required by law. Some fellow soldiers also said he had deserted.

"While many Americans have taken a broader and more sympathetic view, the depth and breadth of the current hostility to Sergeant Bergdahl are extraordinary and have enveloped the case with a lynch mob atmosphere," Fidell said.

(Reporting by David Alexander in Washington and Jim Forsyth in San Antonio; Editing by David Gregorio)