Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl narrowly avoided jail time for wandering off his military base in Afghanistan eight years ago.
The former Taliban hostage faced up to life in prison after pleading guilty to desertion and misbehavior in front of the enemy.
Despite the plea, he endured a lengthy sentencing hearing highlighted by emotional veterans wounded amid their search for him and a doctor, who suggested Bergdahl was schizophrenic when he wandered off the base.
But Col. Jeffrey Nance, the military judge who handed down Bergdahl’s fate, decided a lengthy prison sentence wasn’t warranted. Still, Bergdahl is to be dishonorably discharged from the military with the reduced rank of private.
The 31-year-old will also lose all benefits, including medical, and is will be fined $ 1,000 a month for the next 10 months.
Nance did not explain the reasoning and left the North Carolina courtroom shortly after making the announcement.
His legal team in a statement obtained by CNN said Bergdahl has “looked forward to today for a long time” and expressed gratitude to all those involved in his release, including his parents and President Obama. They also took aim at President Trump for his commentary on the case.
“President Trump’s unprincipled effort to stoke a lynch-mob atmosphere while seeking our Nation’s highest office has cast a dark cloud over the case,” the statement reads. “Every American should be offended by his assault on the fair administration of justice and disdain for basic constitutional rights.”
Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl (c.) arrives to the Fort Bragg courtroom facility for a sentencing hearing on Friday, Nov. 3, 2017, on Fort Bragg, N.C.
The White House said it had no comment on the sentence and instead referred back to a statement from several weeks ago in which Trump said he “expects all military personnel who are involved in any way in the military justice process to exercise their independent professional judgement, consistent with applicable laws and regulations.”
Despite the official White House response, Trump fired off a tweet shortly after the sentence was announced: “The decision on Sergeant Bergdahl is a complete and total disgrace to our Country and to our Military.”
Bergdahl’s attorney, who kicked off the sentencing hearing on Oct. 23 with a motion to dismiss the case, pushed for no jail time for his client in light of Trump alluding to critical comments of his client on the campaign trail in December 2015.
Trump, speaking at the White House Rose Garden on Oct. 16, declined to weigh in on the case, “but I think people have heard my comments in the past,” he said.
He was referring to the rally where he said Bergdahl was a “dirty rotten traitor” who should be shot, or dropped over Afghanistan without a parachute.
The general who investigated Bergdahl’s desertion disagreed with Trump’s assessment.
He recommended the former hostage not go to prison, saying the soldier was delusional when he left the base in the Paktika Province. A preliminary hearing officer additionally suggested the whole incident could have been avoided “had concerns about Sergeant Bergdahl’s mental health been properly followed up.”
But the four-star general in charge of the case moved forward with a court-martial on all charges.
The sentencing ends a nearly decade-long drama that began at an Afghan outpost, though the sentence will be reviewed by Gen. Robert B. Abrams — who will have the power to lessen, but not increase the sentence.
Bergdahl told military investigators he planned to make the 18-mile trek to another base so he could complain about what he thought was a lack of leadership.
Instead he got lost within minutes and was a Taliban hostage by dawn. He spent the next five years in captivity, where he’s said he was kept in a small metal cage.
“The cage was suspended off the ground and the bars cut into my feet,” Bergdahl told the Sunday Times of London in a recently published interview. “That’s why I ended up having permanent nerve damage. After the first winter in the cage, I lost the feeling in my feet.”
Retired Gen. Michael Flynn — briefly Trump’s national security adviser and now under a federal probe — recently told ABC News that Bergdahl had indeed broken the rules by leaving his post.
The sergeant had served any warranted time, however, while enduring the horrors of the Taliban, said Flynn, who was a commander in Afghanistan when Bergdahl was captured.
Bergdahl (r.) waits before being released at the Afghan border, in this still image from video released June 4, 2014.
Bergdahl’s lawyers, who echoed Flynn’s sentiments, additionally questioned the fairness of the case, contending Trump’s status paired with his statements on the matter could have an impact on the legal process. The only fair thing, they argued, was for Bergdahl not to get jail time.
Nance seemed to agree Trump’s statements could play a role. He delayed the sentencing hearing for two days, and still considered tossing the case because of Trump’s comments.
It continued, however, and several service members wounded during search missions for Bergdahl testified.
Retired Senior Chief Petty Officer James Hatch broke down on the stand as he recalled how his Navy SEAL career was ended during one of those operations. He was shot in the leg and a military dog was killed in a hail of gunfire as they searched for the missing comrade.
A day after Hatch poured his heart out on the stand, Nance heard from an Army soldier whose hand was shattered by a dud rocket-propelled grenade, as well as an airman who suffered a head wound during an ambush.
During the sentencing hearing, Bergdahl took responsibility for his actions and said he mourned “for those who have suffered and their families.”
He continued: “I’m admitting I made a horrible mistake.”
With News Wire Services