United States soldier Bowe Bergdahl will face a general court-martial on charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, his lawyers revealed in a statement on Monday. Gen. Robert B. Abrams, who leads the Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, N.C., rejected a previous investigator’s recommendation that the sergeant—who vanished from his Afghanistan outpost in 2009 and spent five years in the hands of the Taliban—be tried at a milder hearing. Such an intermediate tribunal, known as a “special court-martial,” would have protected Berghdal from more than one year of jail time upon conviction. The general court-martial has no such buffers: If found guilty, Bergdahl could serve a life sentence.
In a statement, Bergdahl’s attorney Eugene Fidell said that he “had hoped the case would not go in this direction,” and that General Abrams “did not follow the advice of the preliminary hearing officer who heard the witnesses.” Bergdahl has been a target for controversy since his disappearance set in motion a chain of missions that may have endangered other troops; the saga culminated in President Obama trading Bergdahl for five Guantanamo Bay prisoners in 2014, a decision for which the Commander-in-Chief has been roundly criticized.
Some Americans are only now hearing of Bergdahl’s case thanks to Serial, Sarah Koenig’s blockbuster podcast that returned last week for its second season. The show dives into the soldier’s complicated story—either an instance of whistleblowing heroism, one man leaving safety in order to draw attention to terrible conditions at his base, or foolish cowardice.
No date has been set for Bergdahl’s court hearing, according to the New York Times. The Army also chose not to comment on Abrams’ election of a harsher judicial venue.