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Judge: Bergdahl Adventures Prior to Enlisting Cannot Be Used

A young Bowe Bergdahl sits on a motorcycle during a ride through central Idaho's back country.  (Photo: Stars and Stripes/Courtesy Bergdahl family)
A young Bowe Bergdahl sits on a motorcycle during a ride through central Idaho's back country. (Photo: Stars and Stripes/Courtesy Bergdahl family)

FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- Accused deserter Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's attempt to join the French Foreign Legion and his time on a weapons range prior to enlisting cannot be used in his court-martial as evidence of his pursuits of adventure, an Army judge ruled Monday.

Those past experiences and stints working on fishing boats in the years before 2006 when Bergdahl enlisted in the Army are irrelevant to proving that he deserted his post, Col. Jeffery R. Nance, the military judge, said during a pre-trial motions hearing Monday at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

Nance said introducing those acts as evidence would waste time during a court-martial already expected to last up to two weeks.

Last year, the Army charged Bergdahl, 30, with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy after he spent five years in Taliban captivity. The more serious misbehavior charge could send the soldier to prison for the rest of his life. His court-martial is scheduled for February.

In the years before he enlisted, Bergdahl traveled to France in an unsuccessful bid to join the French Foreign Legion, worked on a Texas weapons range that trains special operations forces and worked on fishing boats in Alaska and on a trip between New York and Seattle.

Maj. Jerrod Fussnecker, an Army prosecutor, argued Monday that those events showed Bergdahl's intent to constantly "seek adventure," saying the soldier retained the same mindset to "show he was a super soldier … like Jason Bourne" when he walked off Observation Post Mest in eastern Afghanistan in 2009. Bergdahl was captured by Taliban fighters shortly after he left the post.

Nance called the prosecutors' argument a "big logical leap" and added they do not need to prove his motive for leaving.

"You just have to prove he went absent without authority," the judge said.

Bergdahl has admitted to Army investigators that he willingly left the post before he was captured, but he said he did not intend to desert the Army. Instead, he said he wanted to cause a disturbance that would place him in front of military brass to file complaints about his chain of command.

He was freed from captivity in May 2014 in an exchange for five senior Taliban leaders who had been held at the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Bergdahl remains on active duty in a desk job at Joint Base San Antonio in Texas. He was arraigned on charges of "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 December, but he has yet to enter a plea.

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