WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A preliminary hearing has been set for July 8 in the desertion case against U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, a former prisoner of war in Afghanistan held five years before being swapped last summer for five Taliban leaders, the Army said on Thursday.
Bergdahl, 29, was formally charged last week with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. If convicted of misbehavior, the most serious charge, he could be sentenced to life in prison.
U.S. Army Forces Command said an Article 32 preliminary hearing into the two charges would take place on July 8 at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where Bergdahl has been stationed since shortly after his release last summer.
An Article 32 proceeding is similar to a grand jury investigation under civilian law, and the appearance would be Bergdahl's first before a court since being charged.
Bergdahl disappeared on June 30, 2009, from Combat Outpost Mest-Lalak in Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and was later captured by the Taliban. He was freed in a controversial prisoner swap that saw five Taliban leaders at Guantanamo sent to Qatar, where they had to remain for a year.
An initial wave of euphoria over Bergdahl's release was followed by a backlash among U.S. lawmakers angry because they were not given 30 days' notice before the transfer of the Guantanamo prisoners, as required by law.
Some of Bergdahl's former Army comrades also came forward and accused him of deserting his post.
Attorney Eugene Fidell, who is leading Bergdahl's defense, has said Bergdahl was not trying to desert when he left his post but instead was trying to locate the nearest general officer so he could report a disturbing situation.
Fidell also released a statement from Bergdahl in which he recounted trying to escape his captors a dozen times over five years, including once in which he was free for nine days before being found.
(Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)