BERGDAHL HEARING CONFRONTS PREJUDICE, SECURITY CONCERNS
January 14, 2016
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. As 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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