The Army sergeant who abandoned his post in Afghanistan and was held captive by the Taliban could face up to life in prison if convicted of both the charges he's facing.
Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was charged with misbehavior before the enemy, which carries a maximum sentence of up to life in prison. He was also charged with desertion, which carries a maximum of five years.
Bergdahl could also face a dishonorable discharge, reduction in rank and forfeiture of all his pay if convicted of both the charges announced Wednesday.
The case now goes to an Article 32 hearing, which is similar to a grand jury. From there, it could be referred to a court-martial and go to trial.
A U.S. army spokesman Col. Daniel King said Wednesday the hearing will take place at Fort Sam Houston in Texas, with dates to be announced at a later time.
The charges are the latest development in a long and bitter debate over Bergdahl's case, and underscore the military and political ramifications of his decision on June 30, 2009, to leave his post after expressing misgivings about the U.S. military's role, as well as his own, in the Afghanistan war.
After leaving his post, Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban and held by members of the Haqqani network, an insurgent group tied to the Taliban that operates both in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Last May 31, Bergdahl was handed over to U.S. special forces in Afghanistan as part of an exchange for five Taliban commanders who were imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
After spending about two weeks recuperating at a U.S. military hospital in Germany, Bergdahl was sent to Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston in Texas on June 13. He has been doing administrative duties at the base, awaiting the conclusion of the case.
The exchange set off a debate over whether the U.S. should have released the five Taliban members, who could return to the battlefield.
Maj. Gen. Kenneth R. Dahl investigated the Bergdahl case, and spent months interviewing unit members and commanders, and meeting with Bergdahl and his attorney, Eugene Fidell, a military justice expert who is also a visiting lecturer at Yale Law School. He submitted his report in mid-October, setting in motion a legal review on his report and how the Army can proceed.
The case was referred to Gen. Mark Milley, head of U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, and he has been reviewing the massive report for several months. He had a broad range of legal options.
Milley could have decided not to charge Bergdahl at all, recommend administrative action or convene a court-martial on more serious offenses.
Some within the military have suggested that Bergdahl's long capture was punishment enough, but others, including members of his former unit, have called for serious punishment, saying that other service members risked their lives — and several died — searching for him.
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press