AUSTIN, Texas >> An Army officer is recommending that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl face a lower-level court martial and be spared the possibility of jail time for leaving his post in Afghanistan, his lawyer said Saturday.
Defense attorney Eugene Fidell said Lt. Col. Mark Visger has decided Bergdahl’s case should go to a military system similar to civilian courts that handle misdemeanor charges. It limits the maximum punishment to reduction of rank, a bad conduct discharge and a short jail term, though that isn’t being sought, Fidell said.
Military prosecutors charged Bergdahl in March with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, a charge that could carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban after leaving his post on June 30, 2009, and held until last year, when he was exchanged for five Taliban commanders. His commanding officers in Afghanistan say a 45-day search for Bergdahl put soldiers in danger.
The Obama administration’s prisoner swap was sharply criticized by many Republicans and some Democrats, who said it was politically motivated and counter to the U.S. policy against negotiating with terrorists.
Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump said Thursday that Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl should have been executed for leaving his post in Afghanistan and called him a "no-good traitor," which he also said in August.
Paul Boyce, a spokesman for the U.S. Army’s Force Command, released a statement Saturday that didn’t confirm Visger’s decision.
"As legal action is ongoing, we continue to maintain careful respect for the military-judicial process, the rights of the accused, and ensuring the case’s fairness and impartiality," Boyce said.
Visger presided over last month’s Article 32 hearing in Texas that reviewed evidence against Bergdahl. Visger submitted a report with his recommendation on Monday, but the Army hadn’t said what Visger recommended.
Gen. Robert Abrams, the commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command, will ultimately decide whether the case should be referred to a court-martial. No timeline has been given for a decision from Abrams.
"These are highly discretionary matters and, needless to say, I hope General Abrams does the right thing, but it’s his call," Fidell said by phone Saturday.
Fidell released a memorandum addressed to Visger. It said the defense team is "grateful for the balanced, judicious, and humane approach you have taken to this complex case, and for the evenhanded way you conducted the public hearing."
It added that Visger’s report should be made public "so the American people can be fully informed of your findings."
"The pity is, there’s no reason for not having transparency," Fidell said Saturday, adding that Bergdahl’s defense team planned to file a written appeal next week seeking to have the full report released. "It’s a self-inflicted wound for the Army."