SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The U.S. Army held an Article 32 hearing in the case of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was charged in March with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy for allegedly leaving his post in southeastern Afghanistan in June 2009. Bergdahl was a prisoner of the Taliban for five years until he was exchanged for five Taliban commanders being held at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Many Republicans and some Democrats criticized the swap as politically motivated and a violation of the U.S. policy of not negotiating with terrorists.
Bergdahl's Article 32 hearing ended Friday. It was held to review the charges against him and determine whether there is probable cause to conclude that he committed any offenses under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and, if he did, whether a court-martial would have jurisdiction over the case. The hearing was held at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, where Bergdahl has been stationed since returning to the U.S. last year.
Here's a more detailed look at the procedures involved in an Article 32 hearing and what happens afterward.
LIKE A MINI-TRIAL
Article 32 hearings are often likened to grand jury proceedings, but legal experts say they are actually more like mini-trials. At Bergdahl's hearing on Thursday, military prosecutors called three witnesses — the heads of Bergdahl's platoon, company and battalion at the time he went missing. Each spoke in detail about the difficulties involved in the 45-day search for Bergdahl and how it put other soldiers in danger. Bergdahl's attorneys called four witnesses Friday, including the officer who led the investigation into Bergdahl's disappearance. Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dahl said Bergdahl explained that he had serious concerns about his unit's leadership and that he left the post hoping to make it to a base about 19 miles away because he hoped to get the attention of a general who might listen to his concerns. Dahl said Bergdahl's concerns were unfounded and that he doesn't think Bergdahl should go to prison. A preliminary hearing officer, whose role is similar to that of a judge, presided over the affair.
NO IMMEDIATE DECISION
After the testimony and evidence was presented, the two sides made their arguments about how they think the case should be resolved. Military prosecutor Margaret Kurz said Bergdahl should face a court-martial because his decision led to a lengthy search that put other soldiers in danger. Bergdahl's lead attorney, Eugene Fidell, said his client never intended to avoid his duty and that his case should be treated like a one-day AWOL stint, which he said carries a penalty of 30 days' confinement. The preliminary hearing officer will consider the evidence and lawyers' arguments and will recommend a course of action in a report that could take several weeks to complete.
The preliminary hearing officer's report will be forwarded to Gen. Robert Abrams, the commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Abrams will ultimately decide whether to send the case to a court-martial, which is the military equivalent of a civilian trial. Abrams might refer charges to a general court-martial, which is reserved for the most serious offenses, or to a special court-martial, which handles offenses that would be the equivalent of misdemeanors in civilian courts. He may also dismiss the charges or take some other action, including discharging him.