Bergdahl Free While Awaiting Possible Court Martial

Bowe Bergdahl rubs his head in a still taken from the handover video released by the Taliban.

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will not be detained or restricted from leaving his base in Texas while awaiting legal proceedings on charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, the Pentagon and the Army said Thursday.

Bergdahl, who went missing in Afghanistan in 2009 and spent five years in captivity, will not be in pre-trial detention or under "any arrest or form of detention" at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Tex., where he has been performing administrative duties for U.S. Army North since his release last spring, the Army said.

Bergdahl is also allowed to leave the base, usually accompanied by two other soldiers because of anonymous death threats made against him, said Eugene Fidell, the lawyer for Bergdahl. Fidell has represented Bergdahl since shortly after his release in May in a controversial exchange for five Taliban prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility.

In a letter to Gen. Mark Milley, head of the Army Forces Command, Fidell said that Bergdahl should be given an honorable discharge and veterans benefits rather than face the possibility of a court martial that could impose a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

When Bergdahl's five years in "harsh captivity" is taken into consideration, "it would be unduly harsh to impose on him the lifetime stigma of a court-martial conviction, or anything other than honorable discharge, and to deny him veterans benefits," Fidell wrote.

In another letter written by Bergdahl and released by Fidell, the 28-year-old soldier wrote that he tried to escape about 12 times from his captors and was severely beaten after his recapture.

Bergdahl said he was "kept in constant isolation during the entire five years, with little to no understanding of time, through periods of constant darkness, periods of constant light, and periods of completely random flickering of light and absolutely no understanding of anything that was happening beyond the door I was held behind."

"In the beginning of my captivity, after my first two escape attempts, for about three months I was chained to a bed spread-eagle and blindfolded," Bergdahl said.

"The blindfold was only taken off a few times a day to allow me to eat and use the latrine. It was not (until) after seeing I could barely walk from my body going through muscle atrophy, that they unchained one of my hands from above my head and chained it down by side, allowing me to sit up in the bed."

At one point, "I believed I had a chance to run for it and did. I was brought down towards the edge of the village by a large group of men, on the ground I felt many blows from fists, and one from the butt stalk of an AK (Ak-47 rifle) that broke it off the weapon," Bergdahl wrote.

The Obama administration's decision to exchange the five Taliban prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility for Bergdahl was highly criticized by Republicans in Congress who said it was a poor trade and also against the law.

The non-partisan Government Accountability Office later said that the Pentagon "violated the Department of Defense Appropriations Act when it didn't give 30 days' notice to Congress about its plan to move the five Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay."

In testy exchanges with the House Armed Services Committee shortly after Bergdahl's release, former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel defended President Obama's deal as driven by the overriding desire to bring home a soldier.

"The president has constitutional responsibilities and constitutional authorities to protect American citizens and members of our armed forces. That's what he did," Hagel said. "America does not leave its soldiers behind. We made the right decision, and we did it for the right reasons -- to bring home one of our own people."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at richard.sisk@military.com

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