HOUSTON – The U.S. Army is set to hold an Article 32 hearing in the case of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was charged in March with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy for allegedly leaving his post in southeastern Afghanistan in June 2009. Bergdahl was a prisoner of the Taliban for five years until he was exchanged for five Taliban commanders being held at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Many Republicans and some Democrats criticized the swap as politically motivated and a violation of the U.S. policy of not negotiating with terrorists.
The hearing will review the charges against Bergdahl and determine if there is probable cause to conclude that he committed any offenses under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and, if he did, whether a court-martial would have jurisdiction over the case. The hearing, which could last several days, will begin Thursday and be held at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, where Bergdahl has been stationed since returning to the U.S. last year.
Here's a more detailed look at the procedures involved in an Article 32 hearing and what happens after the hearing.
LIKE A MINI-TRIAL
Article 32 hearings are often likened to grand jury proceedings, but legal experts say they are actually more like mini-trials. At Bergdahl's hearing, military prosecutors are expected to present evidence, including witness testimony, to detail the charges against him. Bergdahl's attorneys will get to cross-examine prosecution witnesses and to call their own witnesses and present evidence once the prosecution has concluded its case. A preliminary hearing officer, whose role is similar to that of a judge, will preside over the affair.
NO IMMEDIATE DECISION
After the testimony and evidence has been presented, the two sides will make their arguments about how they think the case should be resolved. Prosecutors could argue that it should go to a court-martial while defense attorneys could argue that the charges should be resolved by less severe means. The preliminary hearing officer will consider the evidence and lawyers' arguments and will recommend a course of action in a report that could take several weeks to complete.
The preliminary hearing officer's report will be forwarded to Gen. Robert Abrams, the commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Abrams will ultimately decide whether to send the case to a court-martial, which is the military equivalent of a civilian trial. Abrams might refer charges to a general court-martial, which is reserved for the most serious offenses, or to a special court-martial, which handles offenses that would be the equivalent of misdemeanors in civilian courts. He may also dismiss the charges or take some other action.