Bergdahl chooses military judge over jury in desertion trial
Stars and Stripes August 21, 2017
WASHINGTON — Bowe Bergdahl, the Army sergeant accused of desertion in Afghanistan, has chosen to be tried by a judge rather than a military jury.
In a sparse one-line filing this week, Bergdahl’s lawyers told the court that he prefers a military judge. The accused has the right to make that choice.
His lead attorney, Eugene Fidell, confirmed the decision but declined to comment.
The decision was made after the return of questionnaires submitted by Bergdahl’s defense team to prospective jurors. In June, the Army judge overseeing the case, Col. Jeffrey R. Nance, granted the defense permission to submit a private 41-question survey to each potential juror about President Donald Trump. Nance denied the defense its request to include a question asking whether they voted for Trump.
The lawyers said they wanted to ensure that their client receives a fair trial in the wake of more than 60 disparaging remarks Trump made about Bergdahl during 2015-2016 election campaign. In speeches and rallies, Trump called Bergdahl “a dirty, rotten traitor” and said he should be executed or sent back to his captors.
Bergdahl, 31, is slated to go on trial in October on charges that he deserted his post in eastern Afghanistan in 2009 and endangered his unit through his misbehavior.
After walking off his base, Bergdahl was captured and held hostage by the Taliban for five years. He was released in 2014 in a prisoner exchange.
The Army charged Bergdahl with “misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit or place” and “desertion with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty” in March 2015.
He has yet to enter a plea to the charges.
Nance declined to dismiss the more serious misbehavior charge, which carries a potential life-in-prison sentence. Earlier this summer, the judge ruled to allow evidence only during the sentencing portion of the court-martial — should Bergdahl be convicted — that a soldier and a Navy SEAL were wounded on missions in Afghanistan to search for him.
Bergdahl remains on active duty in a clerical job at Joint Base San Antonio in Texas and has not been held in pretrial confinement.