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Top Army brass upholds no-prison sentence for Bowe Bergdahl

Bowe Bergdahl (U.S. Army)
June 05, 2018

A top Army general on Monday approved the sentence that was handed down on former Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who did not receive any prison time after pleading 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.

Military Judge Col. Jeffery Nance in November ruled that Bergdahl will not serve prison time after being accused of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.

Chief of U.S. Army Forces Command Gen. Robert Abrams upheld the sentence on Monday.

Bergdahl was sentenced to a drop in rank from sergeant to private, forfeiture of $10,000 in pay, and a dishonorable discharge from the military, which means he will not be eligible to receive medical or other benefits.

He could have served a life sentence in prison. The prosecutors said Bergdahl should receive 14 years in prison and a punitive discharge from the military. Bergdahl’s defense attorneys had 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.

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 had said he would still be able to hand down a fair sentence, despite 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 last 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 then held captive for five years. Bergdahl choked up at times during his statement.

The military court judge heard from former Navy SEAL James Hatch and Army Capt. John Billings, Bergdahl’s platoon leader when he walked off. 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 the 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.