Army officials initially took a softer approach to punishing Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for walking away from his unit in Afghanistan in 2009 than the tough line commanders are now taking, The New York Times reports.
Citing previously undisclosed documents, the Times reports the Army's initial investigative team that compiled a report serving as the basis for prosecuting Bergdahl never proposed he be tried on the most serious —
and rare — charge he now faces: endangering troops sent to search for him, which carries a life sentence.
Bergdahl's defense team questions if the harder approach reflects pressure from higher levels of the military — or considerations sparked by GOP outrage at the swap of Bergdahl
for Taliban terrorists and demands that he face stiff punishment, including from presidential front-runner Donald Trump, who has accused Bergdahl of being a traitor,
the Times reports.
Bergdahl's chief defense lawyer Eugene Fidell has sought records of communications between lawmakers and their aides on Capitol Hill and military leaders, the Times reports.
Currently on administrative duty at an Army base in San Antonio, Bergdahl has been ordered to a court-martial
in August at Fort Bragg, N.C.
According to the Times, previously undisclosed documents — given to the newspaper and PBS NewsHour by Fidell — include a 371-page transcript of the soldier's August 2014 interview with Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dahl about Bergdahl's disappearance in June 2009, and the massive manhunt that followed.
Dahl last September testified Bergdahl had wanted to create a crisis by hiking to another base 18 miles away so he could get an audience with a general to describe what he felt were dangerous leadership problems. He was quickly snatched by the Taliban.
But the transcript provides the soldier's history of mental issues, The Times reports — including a psychological breakdown that caused Bergdahl to wash out of Coast Guard basic training in 2006 for an "adjustment disorder with depression." The Times reports he was later found to have suffered schizotypal personality disorder during the period in which he walked off his base in Afghanistan.
The Times reports Bergdahl's defense lawyers suggests his psychological problems in the Coast Guard should have prevented him from joining the Army.
After the hearing, the Army lawyer who presided over the hearing, Lt. Col. Mark Visger, endorsed both a desertion charge, and the charge of misbehavior before the enemy — but recommended an intermediate tribunal where the maximum incarceration would be one year and a dishonorable discharge could not be imposed, the Times reports.
The milder approach followed Dahl's testimony that jail time would be "inappropriate," the Times reports.
In December, Gen. Robert Abrams ordered Bergdahl to a general court-martial on both charges, rejecting Visger's recommendation, the Times notes.
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