A military judge ruled Friday that Bowe Bergdahl, who in 2009 walked away from his military outpost in eastern Afghanistan and spent five years in brutal captivity under the Taliban, should serve no prison time. The 31-year-old sergeant had pleaded guilty to severe charges including desertion and misbehavior before the enemy and faced up to life in prison. in 2014, the Obama administration engineered a prisoner swap in exchange for his release.
The judge, Army Colonel Jeffery Nance, also gave Bergdahl a dishonorable discharge, reduced his rank to private and said he must forfeit his pay of $1,000 per month for 10 months and would receive no medical benefits. The judge made no other comments and left the courtroom immediately after making the announcement, according to the Washington Post.
The prosecution spoke of the lives that were endangered during the search and rescue mission following his disappearance. This included a powerful testimony from former Navy SEAL James Hatch, who was struck by enemy fire that shattered his right femur, and the wife of Master Sgt. Mark Allen, who is unable to speak, walk or communicate himself after being shot in the head.
The defense made the case that he suffers severe mental health problems and has already paid the price of his crime by the suffering he endured during imprisonment, according to New York Times reporter Richard Oppel, who spoke to the NewsHour’s Hari Sreenivasan earlier this week from Fort Bragg. He was beaten with copper cables and locked in a cage for four years, Oppel said.
You can watch lawyer Eugene Fidell’s full statement above.
“As everyone knows, he was a captive of the Taliban for nearly five years, and three more years have elapsed while the legal process unfolded. He has lost nearly a decade of his life,” said Bergdahl’s civilian attorney Eugene Fidell.
Bergdahl’s case was the subject of fierce debate over the soldiers who were wounded and the prisoner exchange. It sparked a season of the popular show Serial, and President Donald Trump on the campaign trail referred to him a “dirty rotten traitor,” and called for his death. Trump last month said he couldn’t comment on the case, but added, “I think people have heard my comments in the past.”
After the verdict, Trump tweeted that the decision was a “complete and total disgrace”:
The decision on Sergeant Bergdahl is a complete and total disgrace to our Country and to our Military.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 3, 2017