Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl pleaded guilty on Monday to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. Appearing before a military judge in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Bergdahl said [AP report] that understood that his actions violated the law.
Bergdahl walked off his Afghanistan base in 2009 and soon after was captured and held captive by the Taliban Haqqani Network [CNN backgrounder] for five years before the Obama administration exchanged [JURIST report] him for five Taliban detainees at Guantanamo Bay. During the time he was held as prisoner, Bergdahl appeared in six videos released by the Taliban.
The negotiations for Bergdahl’s release became a political campaign issue, and Republicans criticized Obama for the negotiation. As a candidate, Donald Trump called the sergeant a “traitor” and called for him to be executed. In response, Bergdahl’s defense lawyers argued that Trump’s comments made before the election would make a fair trial impossible. However, a military judge ruled [text, PDF] in February that while the president’s statements were “troubling,” the statements did not prejudice the case against Bergdahl.
Army prosecutors have argued that the sergeant’s departure forced the military to radically change its operations during the manhunt, and his actions were either directly or indirectly tied to six soldiers’ deaths [CNN report]. Defense attorneys have said those deaths cannot be tied to Bergdahl because there were additional breakdowns in military leadership involved.
Bergdahl is assigned to desk duty at a Texas Army base while his case unfolds. Desertion is punishable for up to five-year’s imprisonment, and misbehavior before the enemy carries a potential life sentence.