Bowe Bergdahl was the only American POW in the Afghanistan War, held captive by the Taliban for five years. After he was released, the Army Sergeant – who is from Idaho – was charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.
Friday, the Associated Press reported that Bergdahl plans to plead guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence. The news was a bit of a surprise to Richard Rosen, a military law expert at Texas Tech University.
Rosen says during sentencing, the military judge will decide whether to accept his admission of guilt. If it’s accepted, the soldier will try to convince the judge that he had good reason for abandoning his post in 2009.
“But he’ll try to show that he was an otherwise good soldier," says Rosen, "that he had mental issues and things like that to minimize the sentence.”
Bergdahl’s lawyers had tried to get the case against him thrown out several times. They pointed to remarks made by President Donald Trump when he was running for office. At the time the Republican candidate talked about Bergdahl during political rallies, referring to him as a “traitor.” Rosen says it’s one of things that sets this case apart.
“There are a lot of these cases going on today, but they just don’t get into the public view. But I’m gratified about how the military handled this, in spite of all the turmoil that surrounded it.”
James Weirick is a former judge advocate in the Marine Corps, and has been following Bergdahl’s story for years. He says one important thing to pay attention to in the plea deal is the amount of days the court considers his AWOL period.
“He left his post," says Weirick. "But then, on the way to the other post, he was captured by the Taliban. That kind of ends the amount of unauthorized absence at that point.”
Weirick says if the conclusion is that he was AWOL for only three days, then his sentence could be as little as one-month confinement and a dock in pay. Bergdahl remains in the Army, stationed in Texas, but his defense team wants to get him out of the military as soon as possible.
“I don’t think the defense was ever trying to say, ‘We’re going to exonerate him and he’s going to go on to become the Sgt. Major of the army.' That was never going to happen," says Weirick.
Sentencing is expected to begin October 23.
Find reporter Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill
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