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Bergdahl Attorneys Seek to Illustrate Case Irregularities

Defense attorneys have said in court filings that they are gathering information on whether the case has been tainted

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    In this Jan. 12, 2016, file photo, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl arrives for a pretrial hearing at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

    A judge's order on Thursday will give Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl more information on why his military service was extended by a decade as his defense seeks to illustrate irregularities in the case.

    Defense attorneys have said in court filings that they are gathering information on whether the case has been tainted by unlawful command influence — a legal term for when high-level military officials unfairly sway a case. The lawyers are also expected to discuss defense requests for communications between high-level generals when a pretrial hearing reconvenes in the afternoon.

    Army Lt. Col. Frank Rosenblatt, a defense attorney, said that Bergdahl was eligible for a discharge in 2011 and should have been given the option to re-enlist or leave the military upon his return from captivity. Instead the government has chosen to keep him on active duty until 2022.

    "This matter was handled entirely irregularly," Rosenblatt told the judge.

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    The judge, Col. Jeffery Nance, ordered prosecutors to request emails and other communications that human resources officials have about the extension and turn over what they find to the defense. Prosecutors had argued that the request was too broad.

    Nance also ordered prosecutors add further labeling and organization to hundreds of thousands pages of documents that they're giving to the defense. The defense had argued that some file names were simply numbers and that they needed a better label. They had also asked prosecutors to tell them which documents they flagged as "hot" for follow-up to help the defense weed out irrelevant information.

    Nance granted the requests.

    "You're not providing them in a way that makes it efficient," Nance told prosecutors. "They could eventually plow through all this stuff ... and then we would be trying the case in 2020."

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    The trial is scheduled to begin in February 2017.

    Bergdahl, who's from Hailey, Idaho, faces charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy after walking off his post in Afghanistan 2009 and winding up in enemy captivity for five years. The Obama administration was criticized for swapping Guantanamo Bay detainees for Bergdahl.

    The hearing Thursday is likely to include a discussion of defense efforts to gain access to the correspondence of high-ranking military officials who were in positions of authority when Bergdahl's disappearance, return and legal case unfolded.

    Defense lawyers argue in recent motions that the correspondence could show whether improper influence was exerted. Prosecutors say the efforts are speculative and unwarranted.