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Bergdahl Likely to Plead Guilty Monday 10/16 06:22

   FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) -- Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is expected to plead guilty 
Monday to charges that he endangered comrades by walking away from a remote 
post in Afghanistan in 2009.

   The U.S. Army said Bergdahl asked to enter his plea before the military 
judge at Fort Bragg. The Associated Press previously reported that he's 
expected to plead guilty to charges of desertion and misbehavior before the 
enemy.

   It's not clear if Bergdahl, 31, has a deal with prosecutors to limit his 
punishment, or if he's simply pleading guilty in hopes of leniency from the 
judge, Army Col. Jeffery R. Nance. The misbehavior charge carries a maximum 
penalty of life in prison, while the desertion charge is punishable by up to 
five years.

   Guilty pleas would bring the highly politicized saga closer to an end eight 
years after Bergdahl's disappearance in Afghanistan set off search missions by 
scores of his fellow service members. President Barack Obama was criticized by 
Republicans for the 2014 Taliban prisoner swap that brought Bergdahl home, 
while President Donald Trump harshly criticized Bergdahl on the campaign trail.

   Meanwhile, serious wounds to service members who searched for Bergdahl are 
expected to play a role in his sentencing. While guilty pleas would allow him 
to avoid a trial, he'd still face a sentencing hearing in late October. 
Bergdahl's five years of captivity by the Taliban and its allies also will 
likely play a role in what punishment he receives.

   Bergdahl's lawyers are expected to reveal in court Monday whether there's a 
plea agreement in place to cap his punishment, or if he's pleading guilty 
without such a deal in what's known colloquially as a "naked plea." In either 
scenario, his punishment won't be known until after the judge holds the 
sentencing hearing that's expected to start on Oct. 23. Bergdahl, who's from 
Hailey, Idaho, previously chose to have his case heard by a judge alone, rather 
than a jury.

   Legal scholars have said that several pretrial rulings against the defense 
have given prosecutors leverage to pursue stiff punishment against Bergdahl. 
Perhaps most significant was the judge's decision in June to allow evidence of 
serious wounds to service members who searched for Bergdahl at the sentencing 
phase. The judge ruled that a Navy SEAL and an Army National Guard sergeant 
wouldn't have wound up in separate firefights that left them wounded if they 
hadn't been searching for Bergdahl.

   The defense also was rebuffed in an effort to prove President Donald Trump 
had unfairly swayed the case with scathing criticism of Bergdahl, including 
suggestions of harsh punishment. The judge wrote in a February ruling that 
Trump's campaign-trail comments were "disturbing and disappointing" but did not 
constitute unlawful command influence by the soon-to-be commander in chief.

   Defense attorneys have acknowledged that Bergdahl walked off his base 
without authorization. Bergdahl himself told a general during a preliminary 
investigation that he left intending to cause alarm and draw attention to what 
he saw as problems with his unit. He was soon captured.

   But the defense team has argued that Bergdahl can't be held responsible for 
a long chain of events that included many decisions by others on how to conduct 
the searches.

   The military probe of Bergdahl began soon after he was freed from captivity 
on May 31, 2014, in exchange for five Taliban prisoners. Facing Republican 
criticism, Obama noted that the U.S. doesn't leave its service members behind.

   Bergdahl has been assigned to desk duty at a Texas Army base while his case 
unfolds.


(KA)

 
 
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