The first pre-trial hearing in the case of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was
held this week and, in short order, concerns over the upcoming court-martial
were voiced by both the prosecution and defense.
Stars and Stripes reports, for the prosecution, there were concerns over the classified nature of
documents the defense was requesting to prepare for the trial. From Bergdahl's
side, there was worry that jury prejudice would be a decisive factor in
the upcoming proceedings.
Bergdahl will face two charges in a court-martial tentatively scheduled
for August: desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. He is suspected
of abandoning his post in eastern Afghanistan's Paktika province in
2009, after which he was captured and held by Taliban operatives for five
years. Last year, he was finally freed in a still-controversial prisoner
exchange for several Guantanamo Bay detainees. There has been persistent
suspicion that Bergdahl cooperated with the enemy while he was in captivity.
Bergdahl's lawyer, Defense attorney Lt. Col. Frank Rosenblatt, seemed
determined to clarify his client's perceived status and reputation
in the first pre-trial hearing. He insisted that Bergdahl's appearance
before an Army jury without deserved POW and Purple Heart medals would
cast "a semblance of guilt" with his peers in the jury. "We
encourage the government to correct that," Rosenblatt added.
Questions of Security & Access
Much of the hearing was focused on another issue: classified material related
to Bergdahl's case. Rosenblatt reported to judge Col. Jeffrey R. Nance
that he did not have critical access of some the 300,000 pages of documents
related to the case. In some cases, he also revealed that he had been
directed to not ask certain questions to witnesses who could become involved
in the case.
Prosecutor Capt. Michael Petrusic argued that this was because of the classified
nature of much of requested information. Petrusic suggested that all requests
for the information should be screened by a properly authorized senior
military official. Col. Nance responded by saying that a proper chain
of declassification would be soon established to satisfy both sides of
the case, but the judge didn't seem to share Petrusic's urgent
concerns—noting that some of the classified information had already
been leaked to the public (but still needed to be properly declassified).
In his first court appearance, Bergdahl appeared attentive and engaged,
and only answered a few yes-or-no questions from Nance. Another pre-trial
hearing will be required before the court-martial, but a date has yet
to be set.
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