Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s general court martial trial has been postponed until after the November election, a military judge has decided.
The delay is to resolve disputes involving defense access to classified documents.
Bergdahl, now 30, sat attentively in his dress blue formal uniform, his infantry cord looped under the epaulet on his right shoulder, during the brief hearing. The soldier from Hailey, Idaho, faces charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. The latter charge is relatively rare and carries the potential of life in prison.
He was exchanged in a controversial swap for five high-ranking Taliban commanders from Guantanamo Bay in 2014.
A February start would mean the court-martial could make headlines only weeks after the new commander-in-chief is sworn in as president.
The judge, Col. Jeffrey Nance, also ruled that media organizations could hire a stenographer to capture courtroom discussions during the trial, and he gave Army prosecutors one week to provide reporters covering the case with online access to court documents.
The judge postponed deciding a dispute that could influence how much punishment Bergdahl could face if convicted.
The Army’s primary investigating officer last year recommended against Bergdahl facing jail time, saying there is no evidence that any service members were killed or wounded searching for him in Afghanistan. A preliminary hearing officer recommended against a bad-conduct discharge.
But those recommendations were scrapped in December by the general overseeing the case. Gen. Robert Abrams, who leads the Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, instead sided with an Army lawyer’s recommendation for a general court-martial.
Bergdahl’s defense lawyers contend that the Army lawyer’s advice to Abrams was so incomplete that it misled the four-star general. Nance did not explain why he opted against taking up the issue Tuesday.
Bergdahl was quickly captured after walking off his combat post in Afghanistan in 2009, and held as a prisoner by the Taliban and its allies until President Barack Obama exchanged five Guantanamo Bay detainees for his safe return, saying the U.S. “does not ever leave our men and women in uniform behind.”
This case is political dynamite and the last thing the Democrats want is for the trial to be running during the fall campaign. Hillary Clinton was not in office when the prisoner swap occurred, but her ties to the administration would have made it fairly easy for the GOP to tie her to the fiasco.
Will it really take 9 months to resolve the issue of defense access to classified documents? It’s already been two years since President Obama stood in the Rose Garden offering praise for Bergdahl. The wheels of justice may turn slowly but in this case, someone deliberately threw a wrench into the works to slow it down.