In an unexpected move, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl took the stand on Monday and gave a statement as part of his sentencing hearing.
He apologized to those service members who were wounded while searching for him after he walked off his Afghanistan outpost in 2009 was later captured by the Taliban, and held captive for five years. Bergdahl choked up at times during his statement on Monday, reports said.
“My words can’t take away what the people have been through,” he said, according to reports.
Bergdahl, now 31, pleaded guilty earlier this month to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy after deserting his post. Bergdahl could face a life sentence.
Days one and two of his sentencing heard accounts from those service members who had been on the hunt for Bergdahl following his capture.
The military court judge heard last week from former Navy SEAL James Hatch and Army Capt. John Billings, Bergdahl’s platoon leader when he walked off post. He also heard from three other service members on day one of the sentencing hearings – Sgt. Evan Buetow, from Bergdahl’s unit; Col. Clinton Baker, Bergdahl’s battalion commander; and retired aviation Col. John White.
Hatch was shot in the leg during the mission to find Bergdahl after he left his outpost in Afghanistan in 2009.
Day two of testimony in the case of accused deserter Bergdahl heard more emotional recounts of horrifying injuries from service members who were on the team assigned to search for Bergdahl.
Jonathan Morita, who left the Army as a Sergeant, gave graphic testimony about how his hand was shattered by a rocket-propelled grenade during the search mission, which left it “dangling off” his arm at the time. After several surgeries, Morita is left without full use of his dominant hand.
Master Sgt. Mark Allen suffered a head wound during the ambush; he now is unable to speak and uses a wheelchair. National Guard Staff Sgt. Jason Walters submitted emotional testimony on Thursday about the moment Allen was hit, and then trying to dress Allen’s head wound. Allen’s wife was expected to testify Monday.
On Monday, Bergdahl started with an extensive apology and then was questioned by his attorneys, which was when he talked about what it was like being held in Taliban captivity for five years.
His statement is an un-sworn statement, meaning Bergdahl will not be cross-examined but his statement can be considered by the judge.
Col. Jeffery Nance, the military judge at Fort Bragg tasked with sentencing Bergdahl, said Monday that past comments from President Donald Trump about Bergdahl being a “traitor” would not affect his sentencing, and that Bergdahl would still get a fair sentencing.
Nance had delayed the hearing from Monday to Wednesday last week when the defense filed a last-minute motion over comments President Donald Trump had made in the past as a candidate, and again as President. The defense claimed Bergdahl would not receive a fair sentencing. The judge had said he was still considering the defense’s motion to dismiss the charges.
The judge had said last Monday that he wanted more time to review the defense’s motion, and had recessed the court until Wednesday.
Nance also gave Bergdahl an opportunity to withdraw his guilty plea, but Bergdahl refused. A guilty plea meant Bergdahl would not face a trial. He had already decided to let a judge – and not a military jury – render a verdict.
After Bergdahl left his post in 2009, he was held as a Taliban prisoner until 2014, when the Obama Administration was able to get him back to the United States through a prisoner swap. Bergdahl was released in exchange for five Guantanamo Bay detainees.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump said Bergdahl was “a dirty rotten traitor” for leaving his post and endangering the lives of others, and that he should “face the death penalty.”
A military judge in February ruled against dropping charges against Bergdahl after Bergdahl’s lawyers argued that comments made by Trump prior to the 2016 election violated their client’s due process rights.