Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, held captive for five years, pleads guilty in connection with disappearance – Washington Post
Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who vanished in Afghanistan and spent five years in brutal captivity before the United States recovered him in a controversial prisoner swap, pleaded guilty Monday in an Army courtroom to two crimes in connection with his disappearance.
Bergdahl, 31, entered the pleas to charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy at Fort Bragg, N.C., according to The Associated Press. The desertion charge could yield a sentence of up to five years, while the misbehavior before the enemy charge carries a penalty of up to life confinement. The rarely used charge is applied to situations in which a service member runs away, surrenders or endangers the safety of colleagues through disobedience, neglect or intentional misconduct.
The pleas signal the beginning of the end in a case that has been politically charged for years. During his White House campaign, President Trump often accused Bergdahl of being a traitor and suggested that he would have been executed for deserting. In reality, no military deserter has been put to death since World War II.
Bergdahl walked away from his combat outpost just before midnight June 29, 2009, in what an Army investigation determined was an attempt to cause a crisis and draw attention to concerns that Bergdahl had about his leaders. The soldier was captured within hours by armed Taliban fighters on motorcycles, and turned over to the Haqqani network, a group in Pakistan that tortured him on and off for years.
The Obama administration sprung Bergdahl in a May 2014 trade in which the U.S. government released five Taliban officials into supervised release in Qatar. The move was bitterly protested by soldiers, some of whom who considered him a traitor for deserting his post and endangering others who were ordered to search for him. Thousands of U.S. troops were involved in the effort in following years, with operations especially stressed in the first several months afterward, the Army investigation concluded.
Obama administration officials defended the prisoner swap, saying the United States does not leave soldiers behind on the battlefield. But critics questioned the wisdom of releasing five Taliban officials for Bergdahl, and the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office determined that the administration broke the law by failing to provide Congress with 30 days notice about its plans to transfer the Taliban officials from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
It is not clear what punishment Bergdahl will receive from the case’s judge, Army Col. Jeffery R. Nance. Sentencing is expected to occur at Fort Bragg in a hearing Oct. 23, and could include testimony from several U.S. service members and veterans who Nance has ruled were injured while searching for Bergdahl.
Nance also could take into account Bergdahl’s treatment in Pakistan. An Army physician who testified in the case found that Bergdahl, who was at times kept in a cage, suffered muscular nerve damage in his lower legs, degenerative back damage and a loss of range in motion in his left shoulder that prevents him from lifting heavy objects. In addition to confinement, a potential sentence for Bergdahl includes a dishonorable discharge, a reduction in rank to private and a loss of medical benefits.
Bergdahl’s defense team has protested that it was not able to get a fair trial due to Trump’s repeated attacks. One attorney, Eugene Fidell, accused Trump of treating Bergdahl as “a political chew toy,” but Nance rejected a request to dismiss the case on grounds that Trump had unlawfully altered the course of the case.
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