United States Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s legal team wants to appeal Bergdahl’s conviction for abandoning his post, arguing comments by then-presidential candidate Donald Trump swayed the legal proceedings against him.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces ruled Monday it will give Bergdahl’s team a chance to appeal his case on grounds that public comments by Trump and the late Sen. John McCain caused undue influence to find Bergdahl guilty, Fox News reported. Bergdahl avoided prison time but was given a dishonorable discharge and sentenced in November 2017 to the reduced rank of private and ordered to forfeit $10,000 in pay.
Bergdahl went missing in Afghanistan in 2009, and was found and taken prisoner by the Taliban. He was eventually returned to the U.S. after a prisoner exchange of five Taliban prisoners.
Several U.S. service members described the efforts to find Bergdahl when he went missing – a costly effort that saw several service members wounded in Taliban ambushes.
Master Sgt. Mark Allen was one soldier who was shot in the head during the search effort. Allen was rendered unable to speak and confined to a wheelchair until he passed away in October of this year.
During the initial court case, Trump tweeted Bergdahl was a “no-good traitor who should have been executed” for deserting his unit. Prior to Trump’s comments, McCain also warned in a 2015 statement that his Senate committee would hold hearings to review the handling of the Bergdahl case if the soldier was not ultimately convicted.
Bergdahl’s defense attorney, Eugene Fidell, argued that Trump and McCain’s remarks were so inflammatory they cost Bergdahl a fair trial.
The latest appeal by Bergdahl’s legal team follows a July appeal effort which ultimately saw an appeals panel of three Army judges determined there was sufficient evidence to convict Bergdahl even without the President’s disparaging remarks.
“Although there was some evidence of unlawful command influence adduced at trial and in the post-trial process, the government met its burden to demonstrate that an objective disinterested observer would not harbor a significant doubt as to the fairness of the proceedings,” the July opinion stated.
Following the November 2017 sentencing, Trump again lashed out at the Bergdahl case, calling the lack of prison-time a “complete and total disgrace to our Country and to our Military.”
The latest appeal effort seeks to either have the case dismissed or to otherwise provide relief for Bergdahl.
A date has not yet been determined for the appeals hearing. Following the Monday ruling, Bergdahl’s legal team will have 30 days to prepare their argument, after which the government will have another 30 days to respond before the case moves to a hearing.