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Bergdahl arraigned on desertion charge

Posted December 22, 2015 11:17 a.m. EST
Updated December 22, 2015 4:31 p.m. EST

— Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl made his first appearance before a military judge Tuesday morning at Fort Bragg to face charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.

Bergdahl, 29, of Hailey, Idaho, disappeared in Afghanistan in 2009 after walking away from his post, and he was held by the Taliban for five years. He was released last year in exchange for five detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

A member of the 82nd Airborne Division's 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, he said recently that he walked off his Afghanistan base to bring attention to what he saw as a failure of leadership in his unit and to prove his bravery.

Six soldiers died searching for Bergdahl following his disappearance.

At a short hearing Tuesday, Bergdahl deferred entering a plea and also put off choosing whether his court-martial will be handled by a panel of officers, a panel of enlisted soldiers or by military judge Col. Jeffrey Nance.

Wearing an Army dress uniform with a dark blue jacket and pants and closely cropped hair, he mostly sat still in his chair and answered "yes" and "no" to questions about whether he understood his rights and the court proceedings.

He walked with his head down as he left the courtroom and didn't speak to reporters waiting in the rain outside the courthouse on Fort Bragg.

Several former POWs are following the case, such as Raymond Schrump, who was held as a prisoner in Vietnam.

"I believe in our judicial system, and for that reason, I supported Bergdahl while he was a prisoner of war," Schrump said, adding that he disagreed with the prisoner swap to gain Bergdahl's freedom.

"We just don't negotiate for our prisoners of war, and if there is an exchange, it's at the end of the war," he said.

Schrump said his support turned to anger after Bergdahl's release.

"When he came home and he was charged, it changed everything," he said. "I'm waiting now for the outcome of that, and if he is guilty, I hope he gets the maximum."

The next hearing in the court-martial is scheduled for Jan. 12, but it remains unclear where the actual trial will be held. Bergdahl's civilian attorney has indicated that he may want the trial held elsewhere, fearing Bergdahl can't receive a fair trial at Fort Bragg.

If convicted, Bergdahl could get life in prison on the misbehavior charge and up to five years for desertion.