The U.S. Army officer overseeing a hearing in the case of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was accused of deserting his post in Afghanistan in 2009, has recommended that Bergdahl not be sent to a military prison, lawyers for the soldier said Saturday. Lt. Col. Mark Visger, presiding officer at the Article 32 hearing in September, recommended a lower court-martial.
Bergdahl, 29, was charged in March with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, an unusual infraction that carries a possible life sentence. At the two-day hearing in September, prosecutors argued that Bergdahl intended to abandon his post in 2009, endangering the lives of those who subsequently searched for him over the course of 45 days.
But the defense argued that Bergdahl had a mental illness. Whether or not the soldier should receive jail time or face court-martial has been a subject of controversy. Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dahl, who led an investigation into Bergdahl's behavior in Afghanistan, said during the hearing that jail time would be "inappropriate" and that over a day and a half of interviewing Bergdahl, he had found no evidence that he was sympathetic toward the Taliban.
Visger recommended "nonjudicial punishment" for Bergdahl under Article 15, where punishments include a demotion in rank or the requirement that a soldier carry out extra duties, Reuters reported.
Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban and held for five years before the U.S. government decided in 2014 to swap him for five members of the Taliban being held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.
Visger's recommendations are just that; the final decision as to Bergdahl's punishment lies with Gen. Robert Abrams, commanding general of the U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Visger submitted his recommendations in a report Monday, although the Army has yet to disclose its contents, and no deadline has been made public for Abrams' decision, the Associated Press reported Saturday.