Bergdahl Expected to Plead Guilty to Deserting Fellow Soldiers
Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is expected to plead guilty to charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy after he abandoned his Afghanistan post and spent half a decade under Taliban captivity, according to two individuals who have knowledge of the case.
Berdahl’s decision to plead guilty leaves it to sentencing whether the 31-year-old Idaho native will serve time in a U.S. prison or receive a lesser sentence that takes into account the time he spent under Taliban captivity. Bergdahl has said the Taliban beat, caged and chained him to a bed, the Associated Press reported.
Bergdahl was freed three years ago following a prisoner exchange negotiated by the Obama administration, and has opted to let a judge rather than a military jury decide his fate. A guilty plea later this month will spare the need for a trial.
It is unclear to date whether prosecutors and Bergdahl’s defense team have reached any agreement ahead of sentencing about how severe a penalty prosecutors will recommend.
Eugene Fidell, an attorney for Bergdahl, declined to comment on any details of the case on Friday, and the prosecutor, Maj. Justin Oshana, referred all questions to the U.S. Army.
“We continue to maintain careful respect for the military-judicial process, the rights of the accused and ensuring the case’s fairness and impartiality during this ongoing legal case,” Army spokesman Paul Boyce said.
Bergdahl was a 23-year-old private first class when he disappeared from Afghanistan in June 2009 after having been there for five months. As a result of his disappearance from the infantry post near the Pakistan border, a massive search operation was orchestrated to find him. Soon after the search operation was organized, videos emerged online showing him being held captive by the Taliban, who formerly controlled Afghanistan in the years before the Sept. 11, 2011 terror attacks.
The United States monitored Bergdahl covertly for nearly five years using drones, spies, and satellites, but never made a move until 2014 when the Obama administration negotiated with the Taliban a swap for five Taliban detainees at Guantanamo Bay prison. The swap fueled a fiery debate about whether Bergdahl was an American hero or a deserter, according to the AP.
As critics questioned whether the trade was worth it, President Barack Obama stood with Bergdahl’s parents in the White House Rose Garden and defended the swap. The United States does not “leave our men or women in uniform behind,” Obama declared, regardless of how Bergdahl came to be captured. The Taliban detainees were sent to Qatar.
“Whatever those circumstances may turn out to be, we still get an American soldier back if he’s held in captivity,” Obama said. “Period. Full stop.”
Donald Trump, as a presidential candidate, slammed Bergdahl at multiple campaign rallies in 2015 and 2016, declaring that that he “would have been shot” in another era for deserting his fellow soldiers.
“We’re tired of Sgt. Bergdahl, who’s a traitor, a no-good traitor, who should have been executed,” Trump said at a Las Vegas rally in 2015.
Some of Bergdahl’s fellow soldiers want him to be held accountable for deserting his post and putting some of them in harm’s way during their search for him. Army Col. Jeffery R. Nance, made a pretrial ruling in their favor back in June, despite the defense separately arguing that Trump’s scathing criticism swayed the case. Nance said that a Navy SEAL and an Army National Guard sergeant would not have been in separate firefights if they hadn’t been searching for Bergdahl.
Nance had previously written in February that Trump’s comments were “disturbing and disappointing,” but he didn’t believe it constituted unlawful command influence by the soon-to-be commander in chief.
Sentencing will start on Oct. 23, according to individuals with knowledge of the case who spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity. The U.S. troops who were seriously wounded during the search for Bergdahl in Afghanistan are also expected to testify during sentencing.
Since the prisoner exchange that brought Bergdahl back to the United States, other soldiers he served with have spoken out against his behavior, including Josh Korder who referred to Bergdahl as “at best a deserter, and at worst a traitor.”