Bowe Bergdahl will not be among the four witnesses that his lawyers plan to call to testify at the hearing to determine if the Army sergeant should face a court-martial for leaving his post in Afghanistan six years ago, his lead attorney said Friday.
Eugene Fiddel began the second day of Bergdahl's Article 32 hearing by explaining that everything relevant Bergdahl has to say about the events that led to his 2009 capture by the Taliban is contained in the lengthy statement Bergdahl gave military investigators last year.
Fidell has repeatedly called for the military to release Bergdahl's statement to the public, saying it would help tell Bergdahl's side of the story and counteract the negative publicity he has faced since being exchanged last year for five Taliban prisoners after five years in captivity. Many Republicans and some Democrats have criticized the swap, saying it was politically motivated and contrary to the U.S. policy of not negotiating with terrorists.
Bergdahl is charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. The hearing at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, where Bergdahl has been stationed since his return to the U.S., is to determine if there is enough evidence to warrant a military trial for Bergdahl.
Military prosecutors called three of Bergdahl's former commanding officers to testify Thursday. Each described the grueling search for Bergdahl and said it put other soldiers in danger. The search lasted 45 days, they said, beginning on June 30, 2009, the day Bergdahl walked away from his post in southeastern Afghanistan.
Another of Bergdahl's lawyers asked Bergdahl's platoon leader, Capt. John Billings, if he was aware of Bergdahl's mental health history, including his psychological discharge from the U.S. Coast Guard and that an Army psychiatric board had concluded that Bergdahl possessed a "severe mental defect." Billings said he wasn't aware and Bergdahl's company commander during his time in Afghanistan, Maj. Silvino Silvino, said he also didn't know of Bergdahl's mental health issues.
Billings and Silvino said Bergdahl had been a model soldier.
Prosecutors on Thursday didn't mention the criticism that has surrounded Bergdahl since his return but focused on trying to substantiate the misbehavior charge. That charge, which carries a possible life sentence, would require them to prove that Bergdahl's actions put other soldiers in harm's way. If convicted, Bergdahl also could be dishonorably discharged, reduced in rank and made to forfeit all pay.
The prosecution's three witnesses -- commanders Bergdahl's platoon, company and battalion -- testified Thursday that his disappearance from his post in Afghanistan put a strain on their forces and put his fellow soldiers in danger.
Billings described the 45-day search for the Idaho native as grueling, saying soldiers got little food or sleep and endured temperatures in the high-90s.
"Physically, mentally, I was defeated," Billings said, adding that he felt like he had "failed" his men. Silvino said some of the thousands of soldiers who took part in the search were angry about it because they felt Bergdahl had deserted. Military prosecutor Maj. Margaret Kurz said Thursday that Bergdahl had actually been planning for weeks to abandon the post.
Finally, Bergdahl's battalion commander, Col. Clinton Baker, said that although no soldiers died as part of the search, there was a spike in improvised explosive device attacks because soldiers were going to places they ordinarily would have avoided.
The Article 32 hearing will result in a report that will be forwarded to Gen. Robert Abrams, the commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command. Abrams will decide whether the case should be referred to a court-martial or be resolved in another manner.