Judge set to issue punishment for U.S. Army deserter Bergdahl

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 03, 2017 6:11 AM

By Greg Lacour

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (Reuters) - The military judge hearing U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl's desertion case was expected to announce a sentence on Friday for the soldier who endangered fellow troops by walking off his Afghanistan post in June 2009.

Bergdahl, 31, faces up to life in prison after pleading guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy in the politically charged case. Republican Donald Trump, during his successful campaign for the presidency last year, called Bergdahl "a no-good traitor who should have been executed."

On Thursday, prosecutors asked Army Colonel Jeffery Nance to send Bergdahl to prison for 14 years for the hardships and injuries endured by service members ordered to search for him.

Defense lawyers said the 31-year-old Idaho native, who experts testified has several mental health conditions, should be spared confinement because he already spent five years suffering torture and neglect in Taliban captivity.

Nance began deliberations on Thursday and said he would resume Friday morning. He is likely to announce a decision on Friday.

The judge ruled earlier this week that Trump's comments had not influenced him nor affected Bergdahl's chances of a fair sentence, but said he would consider them a mitigating factor.

"Retribution and punishment is not eye-for-an-eye," Captain Nina Banks, one of Bergdahl's lawyers, said during closing arguments on Thursday at the Fort Bragg military base in North Carolina. "Sergeant Bergdahl has been punished enough."

Major Justin Oshana, a prosecutor, said there was no dispute that Bergdahl suffered terribly during his captivity. But so had the service members who risked their lives during hasty search-and-rescue missions, Oshana said.

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"He would not have been in that position if not for his own choice," the prosecutor said.

In addition to prison time, the government said Bergdahl should be demoted to the lowest level of private before his punitive discharge from the Army. Defense lawyers asked that the soldier receive a dishonorable discharge.

Bergdahl was released in a 2014 Taliban prisoner swap brokered by the Democratic Obama administration and remains on active duty at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.

(Reporting by Greg Lacour; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)