Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who left his post in Afghanistan in 2009 and was held captive by the Taliban for five years, was charged Wednesday with desertion and endangering fellow soldiers, commanders said.
Bergdahl faces life imprisonment if convicted of the most serious charge, misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit or place, Col. Daniel J. W. King, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Forces Command, said in a news conference at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Bergdahl faces five years behind bars for the second charge, desertion with intent to shirk Important or hazardous duty, King said.
The charges will next be considered in a preliminary Article 32 hearing, similar to a grand jury, that will decide whether there is enough evidence to merit a court martial, King said. That hearing will take place at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
The hearing officer's recommendations will be forwarded to a commander who will decide whether the case warrants a court martial, should be dismissed, or deserves "any other action deemed appropriate," King said.
Bergdahl was released last year in a controversial prisoner exchange for five Taliban commanders held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
NBC News first reported in January that Bergdahl was likely to be charged with desertion. The Army also had the option of filing the lesser charge of going absent without leave, or AWOL.
The military began investigating after Bergdahl was repatriated and returned to Fort Sam Houston, where he was given a desk job.
Investigators questioned Bergdahl for two days last summer.
Critics of the secret prisoner swap, which President Obama defended under his duty to bring all American soldiers home, said the charges showed the trade to be a mistake. Obama welcomed Bergdahl's parents to the White House for the May 2014 announcement.
"The president defended his decision to swap Bergdahl for terrorists with the principle of 'no man left behind.' Well it turns out that Bergdahl left his men behind," Texas Republican Ted Poe, chairman of a House terrorism subcommittee, said in a statement Wednesday.
Another Texas Republican, Michael McCaul, chairman of a House homeland security committee, added: "This proves once again that the president's political motivations for closing Guantanamo Bay are causing him to make reckless decisions and will put more American lives at risk."