The Army court-martial trial of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has taken another turn as his defense team has decided to be tried by a judge — not a military jury — on charges that he endangered comrades by walking off his post in Afghanistan.
Bergdahl faces charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy at his trial which is scheduled to take place in late October at Ft. Bragg. If convicted of the most serious charge, he faces life in prison. His lawyers filed a brief in court last week that Bergdahl has chosen trial by judge alone rather than a jury panel made up of officers.
Defense attorneys declined to comment on the decision. But they previously questioned whether Bergdahl could get a fair trial by jury because of negative comments President Donald Trump made on the campaign trail.
Earlier this year the judge, Army Col. Jeffery R. Nance rejected a defense request to dismiss the case over Trump’s criticism of Bergdahl.
Rachel VanLandingham, a former Air Force lawyer not involved in the case, said defense attorneys likely felt limited in how they could probe juror opinions.
“They lost their ability to ask all the questions they wanted to ask, one of those being: ‘Did you vote for President Trump?'” said VanLandingham, who teaches at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles. “They felt that was very important … for fleshing out whether a panel member could be fair.”
Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban in 2009 after walking off his base and was eventually traded for five Taliban prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay. One aspect of the trial that the judge hasn’t ruled on yet will be will he allow testimony on the casualties suffered by Bergdahl’s unit when they went searching for him.
Bergdahl has been stationed at Joint Base San Antonio awaiting the trial. He is not under any pre-trial confinement.
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Photo courtesy DOD