x

Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Bergdahl sentence angers soldiers and senior Republicans

US president Donald Trump led the condemnation, calling it a 'complete and total disgrace to our Country and to our Military' that Bergdahl, who deserted his post in Afghanistan before being captured by the Taliban, will not serve time in prison

Bowe Bergdahl, who was demoted and dishonourably discharged from the US army for abandoning his post in Afghanistan, is driven away from the courthouse at the conclusion of his court martial at Fort Bragg, North Carolina on November 3, 2017. Jonathan Drake / Reuters
Bowe Bergdahl, who was demoted and dishonourably discharged from the US army for abandoning his post in Afghanistan, is driven away from the courthouse at the conclusion of his court martial at Fort Bragg, North Carolina on November 3, 2017. Jonathan Drake / Reuters

Senior Republicans and American army personnel who served with Bowe Bergdahl have condemned what they see as a lenient sentence for a soldier who deserted his post in a war zone.

President Donald Trump led the condemnation, calling it a “complete and total disgrace to our Country and to our Military” that Bergdahl will not serve time in prison.

The soldier was captured by the Taliban in 2009 after he walked off his base in Afghanistan. He was tortured and kept in a cage before being released five years later in exchange for five prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay.

He pleaded guilty to desertion and misbehaviour before the enemy and had faced up to life in prison.

Instead, Colonel Jeffery Nance, who presided over sentencing at Fort Bragg, ordered he be demoted to private, dishonourably discharged — losing all benefits — and that he pay a fine of $1000 a month for the next 10 months.

The sentence has reignited a politically divisive case that polarised opinion on how to treat a soldier who put his comrades at risk but who suffered badly at the hands of his captors.

Josh Cornelison, who was medic to Bergdahl’s unit — second platoon, Blackfoot Company in the First Battalion, 501st Regiment — said the punishment was equivalent to what someone might get for failing a urine test.

“For him to have willingly walked away and to get the same punishment as somebody who might have s*****ed up on an army post on a Tuesday evening, I think that’s completely outrageous,” he said.

Bergdahl was still in a position to benefit from movie or book deals, he added, despite putting lives at risk through his actions.

The court heard testimony from two soldiers who suffered life-threatening wounds during the search for Bergdahl, and from the wife of a third whose head injuries left him permanently disabled.

_____________________

Read more:

Bowe Bergdahl: the man who left his post

Video: Bergdahl release stirs resentment, soldiers want truth

Newsmaker: Bowe Bergdahl

______________________

Prosecutors asked for a sentence of 14 years in prison but defence lawyers countered that Bergdahl had already suffered as a captive and provided important intelligence on the Taliban after his release.

A psychiatrist testified that Bergdahl’s fateful decision was influenced by post-traumatic stress disorder from a difficult childhood and by a personality disorder that made it hard for him to understand the consequences of his actions.

Jonathan Morita, one of the wounded soldiers who gave evidence, said it was “unacceptable” that Bergdahl was not given prison time.

Mr Morita's hand was shattered by a rocket-propelled grenade during a mission connected to the soldier’s disappearance.

“It should have maybe not been the life sentence, but it should have been something,” he told The Associated Press.

Lindsey Graham, a Republican who serves on the senate armed services committee, said he was disappointed by the sentence.

“Given the nature of the crime and the sacrifices made by others on Bergdahl’s behalf, this sentence in my view falls short of the gravity of the offence,” he said. “An independent judiciary is the heart and soul of the rule of law but no one is beyond criticism.”

Bergdahl’s lawyers say they hope to have the sentence reduced further or thrown out completely when they take it to a higher court on appeal.

Until now, he has been on desk duties at a military installation in San Antonio but has reportedly been offered jobs at an animal sanctuary and in a role teaching survival training to military personnel when he leaves the army.