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Army reconsiders ruling on Bowe Bergdahl case over Trump interference

Bowe Bergdahl (U.S. Army/Released)
July 02, 2019

The Army could be reconsidering the ruling in the case against former Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, whose attorneys returned to court on Thursday to appeal the case because they say it was affected by President Donald Trump.

Bergdahl’s attorney, Eugene Fidell, told a panel of judges last week, “The president has tainted everything,” adding that Bergdahl was deprived of his right to a fair trial, the Washington Times reported Tuesday.

“You can’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again in terms of Sergeant Bergdahl. He is a known figure in the U.S. because the President disparaged him,” Fidell argued.

Bergdahl, who served on the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, deserted his post in 2009 while deployed to Afghanistan. He was held hostage by the Taliban for the next five years until the Obama Administration traded five Guantanamo Bay prisoners for his release.

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He was charged with desertion, to which he pleaded guilty to in 2017. Military Judge Col. Jeffery Nance ruled in November 2017 that Bergdahl would be dropped in rank from sergeant to private, forfeit $10,000 in pay, and receive a dishonorable discharge from the military, which means he was ineligible to receive medical or other benefits.

“The decision on Sergeant Bergdahl is a complete and total disgrace to our Country and to our Military,” Trump had tweeted on Nov. 3, 2017 after the initial decision.

Bergdahl’s team appealed the ruling, which was upheld on June 4, 2018.

“Was there an effect of the 3 Nov. 2017 tweet on the appellate post-trial process? What the government is arguing is there simply was not,” Army Maj. Catharine Parnell argued last week, according to Military.com. “If a tweet extends that far, our system can never correct this.”

“If the President’s tweet cast a shadow downstream,” Judge Paula Schasberger said in response to Fidell, “are we a part of that shadow? What is your position. Are we tainted?”

Trump made several other public comments in the preceding years, including one 2015 remark in which he said, “In the old days when we were strong and wise, we [would] shoot a guy like that,” the Army Times noted.

Government lawyers argued last week that the fact that Bergdahl received no prison time at all shows that Trump’s remarks had no impact on his trial.

However, Bergdahl’s charges carried a potential sentence of life in prison. Prosecutors argued for a sentence of 14 years in prison along with a military discharge. Bergdahl’s defense team requested leniency, arguing that five years in captivity with the Taliban was damaging enough.

It’s not yet clear when the appeals court could decide the case.