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Government Wants to Push Bergdahl Court-Martial to May

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, right, leaves a pretrial hearing at Fort Bragg, N.C., last January. (AP Photo/Ted Richardson)
Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, right, leaves a pretrial hearing at Fort Bragg, N.C., last January. (AP Photo/Ted Richardson)

Prosecutors in the court-martial of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl are asking to delay the trial date while they continue to gather 6,000 classified documents.

In a motion filed Thursday, prosecutors asked for an extension to gather the documents, possibly invoke privilege and make them accessible to the defense. That could take until February, when the court-martial is scheduled to begin. Prosecutors have proposed the court-martial begin in May.

Bergdahl is charged with desertion with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty and misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit or place.

He walked off a remote post in Afghanistan in 2009 and was subsequently held by the Taliban for nearly five years. He was released in May 2014 in exchange for prisoners being held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Prosecutor Maj. Jerrod Fussnecker said the government has already made about 300,000 classified documents -- or about 1.3 million pages -- accessible to the defense. In a second round of reviewing documents, the government identified 35,000 additional documents to make available. Of those, they released about 20,000 documents and are in the process of releasing another 8,400.

Fussnecker said the prosecutors need more time to gather the final 6,000 documents.

Those documents are of secret and top secret clearances and need to be reviewed by their respective agencies to determine if privilege should be invoked.

Claiming that privilege would require the government to retrieve the original classified documents from the agencies, write summaries of those documents, turn over the original and the summarized documents to the judge for comparison and, finally, turn over the summaries to the defense.

According to the motion, the government anticipates four organizations will invoke privilege. The Department of State is the only organization of those four named by the government.

Prosecutors said they don't believe the extension will significantly delay discovery in the case because the defense lawyers must still review the classified documents to which they already have access.

"The government would use the extension to conduct review of documents that will be provided by the NSC (National Security Council)," according to the motion. "The government believes this additional time will also allow the defense to review the material already provided to it."

The defense could not immediately be reached for comment on the proposed motion to delay the court-martial.

(c)2016 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)

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