- US Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl pleaded guilty to desertion and was sentenced to a dishonorable discharge on Friday.
- President Donald Trump quickly condemned the ruling, echoing his campaign-trail denunciations of Bergdahl.
- Bergdahl’s defence team argued Trump’s comments would affect the case, though the judge disagreed.
Just hours after Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl avoided jail time after pleading guilty to charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, President Donald Trump chimed in with stinging criticism of the case’s resolution.
“The decision on Sergeant Bergdahl is a complete and total disgrace to our Country and to our Military,” Trump tweeted early Friday afternoon.
Bergdahl walked off his outpost in Afghanistan in June 2009 and was quickly captured by the Taliban. He was then held for five years by members of the Haqqani network, suffering abuse throughout his time as prisoner. He was turned over to the US in exchange for five Taliban detainees in 2014 — a deal that has been sharply criticised since.
He faced up to life in prison in the case, and prosecutors had asked for 14 years in prison, but on Friday a military judge sentenced him to a dishonorable discharge, a reduction in rank from sergeant to private, and a fine of $US1,000 from his salary for the next 10 months. He will also lose access to benefits given to military veterans.
The judge, Army Col. Jeffery R. Nance, made no remarks about how he arrived at his decision and promptly left the courtroom after delivering it.
Bergdahl’s defence argued throughout the proceedings that he would not be able receive a fair trial due to Trump’s statements about the case during the presidential campaign.
“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.
The defence filed a motion to dismiss the case on October 23 based on Trump’s comments.
Nance denied it, saying that while the comments were “disturbing and disappointing,” they didn’t represent unlawful command influence by the soon-to-be commander in chief.
Nance ruled earlier this week that Trump’s remarks had not influenced him or Bergdahl’s chance for a fair trial, but he did say he would consider them as a mitigating factor.
Bergdahl’s lawyers argued that psychological conditions, which impaired his reasoning, factored into his decision to walk away from his base and that the severe mistreatment he received in captivity were sufficient punishment.
The sentence is effective immediately, though Bergdahl is appealing the dishonorable discharge, according to his civilian lawyer. Gen. Robert Abrams, who convened the case as chief of Armed Forces command, will also review the sentence, though he can only reduce, not increase, the sentence.
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