FORT BRAGG, N.C. — Wearing a dress blue uniform, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl faced a military judge Tuesday for the first time since the U.S. Army decided to proceed with a military trial that could result in a life sentence for his disappearance in Afghanistan in 2009.
Bergdahl, who was held by the Taliban for five years after he walked off a base, was arraigned during a short hearing on charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, a relatively rare charge that carries the severe punishment. If convicted of desertion, he could get up to five years in prison.
Bergdahl deferred entering a plea and did not decide whether he wants to face a court-martial with a jury or one with just a judge. He said little beyond answering "yes" and "no" to questions about whether he understood his rights and the court proceedings.
He appeared demure, sitting mostly still in his chair then walking deliberately with his head down as he left the courtroom. He talked quietly with his military attorney before and after the hearing.
The next pretrial hearing was scheduled for Jan. 12 before Army Judge Col. Jeffery R. Nance, who will preside over future hearings in the case.
Bergdahl, 29, of Hailey, Idaho, walked off his post in eastern Afghanistan's Paktika province on June 30, 2009. He was released in late May 2014 as part of a prisoner swap, in exchange for five detainees in Guantanamo Bay. The move touched off a firestorm of criticism, with some in Congress accusing President Barack Obama of jeopardizing the safety of the country with the exchange.
A preliminary hearing officer initially recommended a special court-martial, which is a misdemeanor-level forum. But earlier this month, the Army announced Bergdahl would face the more serious general court-martial.
Bergdahl's disappearance and the possibility that he might face light punishment had angered many in the military, who say his fellow soldiers took considerable risks to search for him.