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Bowe Bergdahl charged with desertion; defense decries 'lynch mob atmosphere'

Bowe Bergdahl
Bowe Bergdahl. (Screen capture from YouTube video)
By David S. Cloud and James Queally
Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was captured by Taliban forces in Afghanistan in 2009 and returned to the United States in a controversial prisoner swap last year, has been charged with desertion and “misbehavior before the enemy,” the Army said Wednesday.

Bergdahl's defense lawyer responded with a statement asking Americans to "continue to withhold judgment until the facts of this case emerge."

Because of the political controversy generated by the prisoner swap, Bergdahl's case has been surrounded by a "lynch mob atmosphere" in which he has been "vilified," defense attorney Eugene R. Fidell said in a letter to the military official handling the case.

The intense response to the case raises questions about whether Bergdahl can receive a fair trial, Fidell said. He noted that the military has been so concerned about Bergdahl's safety that he is required to have two escorts whenever he leaves the base in Texas where he has been living "to prevent third parties from injuring him."

Bergdahl vanished on June 30, 2009, when he allegedly walked away from his unit after he expressed misgivings about the military's role in Afghanistan. He was captured by the Taliban and held by members of the Haqqani network, which operates in Pakistan and Afghanistan, for nearly five years.
Bergdahl, 28, will face a hearing in the case next month to determine if enough evidence exists to warrant a court martial. The hearing, expected to be at a military base in San Antonio, Texas, could lead to a trial or to the dismissal of the charges, the Army statement said.

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