The U.S. Army moved quickly toward the prosecution of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl with the announcement Thursday by U.S. Forces Command that the accused will be arraigned next week at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, on charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.
The arraignment hearing Dec. 22 at the Fort Bragg Courtroom at which Bergdahl will be expected to enter a plea will mark the first time that he has appeared before a military judge since he was released in May 2014 from captivity in exchange for five Taliban detainees held at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, naval base.
Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the charges against the 29-year-old Bergdahl will be read out by the trial counsel, or prosecutor, at the hearing unless the reading is waived by Bergdahl and his defense team. The military judge will then ask Bergdahl to enter a plea and consider a tentative date for trial.
The arraignment will come eight days after Gen. Robert B. Abrams, the head of the command and the military convening authority in Bergdahl's case, ordered him to face a general court-martial, the highest military trial venue reserved for what would be felonies in civilian law.
Abrams referred charges of one count of violation of the UCMJ's Article 85 -- "desertion with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty" -- and one count of Article 99 -- "misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit or place." The misbehavior count could bring a sentence of life imprisonment upon conviction.
A brief statement from the command said, "In the military justice system, similar to many civilian justice systems, an arraignment is generally the accused's first appearance before a military judge."
Bergdahl has been assigned to clerical duties with U.S. Army North at Joint Base San Antonio in Texas and has received a good conduct medal since his release.
Through his defense team, and in a lengthy interview with the popular podcast "Serial" last week, Bergdahl has claimed that he left Combat Outpost Mest-Malak in Afghanistan's southeastern Paktika province on June 30, 2009, on a mission to proceed 20 miles to Forward Operating Base Sharana.
Bergdahl said he intended to tell commanders at Sharana of problems in his unit that were endangering the lives of fellow soldiers.
--Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com