Bergdahl says he tried to escape Taliban captors a dozen times

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl tried to escape his Taliban captors a dozen times in five years as a prisoner of war, once remaining free for nine days, but each time he was found and brutally beaten, he said in a statement released on Wednesday. The statement, Bergdahl's first account of his time as a Taliban prisoner, was released by his attorney, Eugene Fidell, after the Army charged Bergdahl with desertion and misbehavior in the face of the enemy in connection with his capture. Bergdahl faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted of the more serious misbehavior charge, the Army said. He could also be reduced in rank to private, forfeit all salary and be given a dishonorable discharge. Bergdahl, 28, disappeared from Combat Outpost Mest-Lalak in Paktika Province in eastern Afghanistan on June 30, 2009, after pulling early morning guard duty. He left behind his weapon, ammunition and body armor. The sergeant said his first escape attempt occurred within hours of his initial capture, when his minders briefly left him alone in a village where he was being interrogated and beaten for evading questions. "After a while they put the blindfold back on and threw the blanket over my head. Some moments after that I believed I had a chance to run for it and did," Bergdahl said. He was tackled near the outskirts of the village by a large group of men who pummeled him with their fists and clubbed him with the butt of an AK-47 rifle, snapping off the stock. He tried to escape again near the end of his first week as a prisoner, eluding his captors for about 15 minutes in a populated area, the statement said, but he was found and beaten with a thick rubber hose. "After my first two escape attempts, for about three months I was chained to a bed spread-eagle and blindfolded," he said. "The blindfold was only taken off a few times a day to allow me to eat and use the latrine." Bergdahl said it was not until his muscles began to atrophy and he began to have trouble walking that his captors unchained one of his hands from above his head and tied it to his side, allowing him to sit up in bed. He developed sores from the chafing of the chains and they became infected, with the infection spreading to his face and other parts of his body. Bergdahl said after the first three months or so he was never fully chained to a bed again, but he was forced to remain in chains attached to unmovable objects. He said he was fed elbow noodles or rice and very little else. He received two bottles of water a day. The bottoms of his feet and other parts of his body were regularly beaten with a copper cable. Toward the end of his first year in captivity, Bergdahl said he managed to escape again. He got away from the building where he was being held and remained at large for about nine days in increasingly desperate circumstances. "Without food and only putrid water to drink, my body failed on top of a short mountain close to evening," he wrote. "After I came to in the dying gray light of the evening, I was found by a large Taliban searching group." "This is the time that my body reached the worst point of condition and for approximately the next year and a half I would not recover from it," he said. Bergdahl was released from Taliban custody last summer in a controversial prisoner swap. (Reporting by David Rohde; Writing by David Alexander; Editing by Alan Raybould)