Bowe Bergdahl, the US army sergeant freed from five years of Taliban captivity after a controversial prisoner swap, has been charged with desertion by the American military.
The 28-year-old soldier became America's only prisoner of war after he allegedly wandered out of his base in Afghanistan in 2009 and was captured by Taliban fighters.
He was freed in May last year after US President Barack Obama agreed to release five senior Taliban commanders from Guantánamo Bay - a decision widely criticised by Republicans and many of Sgt Bergdahl's former comrades.
The US Army announced last night that after a months-long review it had decided to charge Sgt Bergdahl with desertion and misbehaviour before the enemy.
He could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted of the most serious count.
Eugene Fidell, Sgt Bergdahl's lawyer, said it was "wildly premature" to say how he would plead.
Sgt Bergdahl was initially welcomed back to the US in May as a hero, with one of Mr Obama's top aides saying the young soldier "served the United States with honour and distinction".
But public opinion quickly hardened as Americans learned of allegations that he had walked away from his unit after growing disillusioned with the war in Afghanistan.
"These people need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid," he wrote in an email to his parents three days before allegedly deserting.
For five years his parents waged a long campaign to secure his release, pressuring the US government but also appealing directly to the Taliban to free their son. Sgt Bergdahl's father, Bob, learned Pashto so that he could better understand his son's captors. The Taliban taunted the US by releasing videos of Sgt Bergdahl in captivity, sometimes wearing his military uniform and other times appearing frail and with a shaved head.
Some of Bergdahl's former Army comrades came forward and said they believed he deserted his post. Former Army Sergeant Evan Buetow, who served with Bergdahl, said on Wednesday that the former war prisoner had been treated fairly by the Army and needed "to answer for what he did."
"He put all of our lives in danger," Buetow said. "Men from our company died, when I don't believe they would have if he wouldn't have left."
Republican lawmakers also backed the Army's decision to move ahead with the charges. Senator John McCain, head of the Senate Armed Services Committee and himself a Vietnam War prisoner, said it was an "important step" toward determining Bergdahl's accountability.
Sgt Bergdahl's family has received death threats, and a welcoming party in his hometown in the state of Idaho was cancelled amid safety concerns. (© Daily Telegraph, London)