The fate of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is hanging in the balance, as a military court judge has started deliberating what Bergdahl’s sentence will be after hearing several days of testimony.
Bergdahl, now 31, pleaded guilty in October to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy after deserting his outpost in Afghanistan. He was held captive by the Taliban for five years, and six service members died while searching for him. He could face a life sentence in prison.
On Thursday, prosecutors and the defense gave closing arguments and their recommended sentences.
The prosecutors said Bergdahl should receive 14 years in prison and a punitive discharge from the military, according to reports. Bergdahl’s defense attorneys argued in favor of leniency, and said he should receive a dishonorable discharge and no prison time – that he has faced enough punishment after five years of captivity, Stars and Stripes reported.
Military Judge Col. Jeffery Nance said he would be deliberating Thursday afternoon and said he planned to hold court on Friday, the Washington Post reported. He did not say when he intended to hand down a sentence.
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. His sentencing hearings were held in military court at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and lasted several days.
Nance has said he would still be able to hand down a fair sentence, despite past and more recent comments made by President Donald Trump that Bergdahl was a “traitor.” Nance had delayed the start of the hearings by two days when the defense filed a last-minute motion over comments Trump had made in the past as a candidate, and again as President. The defense claimed Bergdahl would not receive a fair sentencing.
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.
Days one and two of Bergdahl’s sentencing heard accounts from those service members who had been on the hunt for Bergdahl following his capture.
U.S. intelligence agents also testified in military court that Bergdahl was a “gold mine” of information after being released, painting a contrasting picture to the previous days’ testimony. Once released from captivity, Bergdahl was “motivated” and eager to help intelligence officials, they testified.
And, in an unexpected move, Bergdahl also took the stand and gave a statement.
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. Six people died searching for him. Bergdahl choked up at times during his statement, reports said.
The military court judge heard 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.