Rather than face trial for leaving his Afghanistan post in 2009, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, 31, is expected to plead guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, according to news reports in which “two individuals with knowledge of the case” talked to the Associated Press.
Bergdahl was subsequently captured and held by the Taliban for five years until President Barack Obama struck a deal with the terrorists to return him to the U.S. in exchange for five detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
Bergdahl’s decision to plead guilty is the latest twist in an eight-year drama during which President Obama treated the deserter as though he were a celebrated hero.
On May 31, 2014, Obama stepped into the White House Rose Garden with parents Bob and Jani Bergdahl to announce that their son was coming home, and Bob spoke publicly to his son in native Pashto during the event. (See video below.)
Echoing the thoughts of many Americans and military members, in particular, President Donald Trump has since called Bergdahl a “no-good traitor” who “should have been executed.”
The decision by the Idaho native leaves open whether he will return to captivity for years — this time in a U.S. prison — or receive a lesser sentence that takes into consideration the time the Taliban held him under brutal conditions. He claims to have been caged, kept in darkness, beaten, and chained to a bed.
Bergdahl faces up to five years on the desertion charge and a life sentence for misbehavior.
Bergdahl’s guilty plea will follow several pretrial rulings against him that had complicated his defense.
His attorneys don’t dispute that Bergdahl walked off his base without authorization. In fact, Bergdahl himself told a general during a preliminary investigation that he left because he wanted to cause alarm and draw attention to what he saw as problems with his unit.
An Army Sanity Board Evaluation concluded that he suffered from “schizotypal” personality disorder. His lawyers say that the man shouldn’t be held responsible for the chain of events that included decisions by others about how to retrieve him because such matters were not in his control.
Three years ago, Bergdahl was scheduled for trial in late October of this year. He had opted to let a judge rather than a military jury decide his fate, but a guilty plea later this month negates the need for a trial.
The AP’s sources, “individuals with knowledge of the case who weren’t authorized to discuss it,” leaked the news that sentencing will start on Oct. 23.
U.S. troops who were seriously wounded searching for Bergdahl in Afghanistan are expected to testify, the anonymous individuals told the AP.
Neither Bergdahl’s attorney, Eugene Fidell, or prosecutor Maj. Justin Oshana would discuss with reporters whether Bergdahl had actually agreed to plead guilty.
“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,” said Paul Boyce, an Army spokesman.
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