An appeals court has cleared the way for U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s legal case to resume, rejecting prosecutors’ arguments that defense attorneys were given too much leeway on accessing classified documents.
The United States Army Court of Criminal Appeals denied prosecutors’ appeal in a ruling released late Saturday by defense attorneys. The court also lifted a stay from February on pretrial proceedings being heard at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
Bergdahl faces charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy after he walked off an outpost in Afghanistan in 2009 and was held by the Taliban and its allies for five years. The latter charge is relatively rare and carries a punishment of up to life in prison.
Prosecutors had argued the military judge erred in a decision that “directs the unauthorized disclosure of classified information and grants the defense unfettered access to classified information,” according to court documents.
In an opinion dated Thursday, the three-judge appeals panel wrote that it disagreed with prosecutors’ interpretation.
The judge overseeing Bergdahl’s military trial, Army Col. Jeffery Nance, had ordered prosecutors in February to turn over many of the classified documents they had gathered, subject to certain rules. His order had also allowed defense attorneys to obtain other classified information without taking steps that prosecutors said were necessary.
Prosecutors argued that, in either instance, another layer of approval was needed.
Defense attorneys argued that Nance’s order was sound and that existing rules already require them to notify the judge and prosecutors if they intend to disclose any classified information during the case. They wrote that prosecutors were trying to make them follow an “endlessly inefficient” process that “would overwhelm these most senior members of our government by requiring their personal decision on every one of hundreds of thousands of documents.”
Army spokesman Paul Boyce said in an email Sunday that Army officials are working on scheduling Bergdahl’s case. He didn’t answer a question about whether prosecutors would file another appeal.
Bergdahl’s military trial was tentatively scheduled to start in August, but pretrial proceedings were halted while the appeals court considered the classified documents dispute.
He was arraigned in December but has yet to enter a plea.
Bergdahl, of Hailey, Idaho, walked off his post in eastern Afghanistan in June 2009, and was released in late May 2014 as part of an exchange for five detainees in Guantanamo Bay. The move prompted harsh criticism, with some in Congress accusing President Barack Obama of jeopardizing the safety of the country.