U.S. Army Sergeant Bergdahl expected to plead guilty to desertion

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl leaves the courthouse after an arraignment hearing for his court-martial in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, U.S., December 22, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake/File Photo

 WINSTON-SALEM — U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, 31, who was held captive by the Taliban for five years after walking off his post in Afghanistan, is expected to plead guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, the Associated Press reports, citing two people with knowledge of the case. The plea is expected to be filed later this month with the military court trying the case at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville. The trial was scheduled to begin on Oct. 23.

“We have no comment on that report,” said Eugene Fidell, one of Bergdahl’s lawyers, when Reuters reached him by phone on Friday.

In 2009, Bergdahl left his post near the Pakistan border, telling fellow soldiers that he was a survivalist and he wanted to draw attention to a “leadership failure” in his unit. His disappearance sparked a regionwide manhunt in which several soldiers were seriously injured.  Bergdahl was captured and said he suffered torture, abuse and neglect at the hands of Taliban forces.

In 2014, Bergdahl was released in a prisoner swap with five Taliban detainees held by the U.S. in a decision that was criticized by many Republican leaders. President Donald Trump has called Bergdahl a “dirty, rotten traitor.”

President Barack Obama said Bergdahl served “with honor and distinction,” during a 2014 Rose Garden ceremony announcing his release. Republicans objected to the swap because, among other issues, they were not notified of the deal until after the five Taliban members had been released. The five Taliban members were sent to Qatar for “indefinite house arrest,” according to the Qatari government in the terms of their release.

Bergdahl was charged in 2015 with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy by endangering U.S. troops. The latter offense carries a sentence of up to life in prison. Fort Bragg officials would not confirm the AP report.

“We continue to maintain careful respect for the military-judicial process, the rights of the accused and ensuring the case’s fairness and impartiality during this ongoing legal case,” said Fort Bragg Army spokesman Paul Boyce.

The presiding judge in the case, Army Col. Jeffrey R. Nance, earlier ruled that soldiers who had been injured looking for Bergdahl would be allowed to testify against him.

Reuters News Service contributed to this report.