Bergdahl judge begins deliberating on sentence

Posted at 10:50 AM, Nov 02, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-02 12:50:55-04

A military judge on Thursday began deliberating the punishment for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl -- after defense attorneys asked for no prison time, while prosecutors sought more than a decade behind bars.

Army Col. Jeffery Nance said he planned to spend the afternoon considering evidence and would open court again Friday morning to continue deliberating then. It wasn't clear when he would deliver the sentence.

Bergdahl faces up to life in prison after pleading guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy for walking off his remote post in Afghanistan in 2009. In closing arguments, prosecutors asked the judge to sentence him to fourteen years in prison, citing serious wounds to service members who looked for Bergdahl.

"Sgt. Bergdahl does not have a monopoly on suffering as a result of his choices," said Maj. Justin Oshana, a prosecutor. Contrasting Bergdahl with those wounded searching for him, he added, "The difference is all the suffering stems from his choice."

But defense attorneys argued Bergdahl already suffered enough confinement during his five years of brutal captivity by Taliban allies. They asked the judge to give their client a dishonorable discharge and no prison time. Their argument for leniency also cited harsh campaign-trail criticism by Donald Trump and Bergdahl's mental disorders.

"Justice is not rescuing Sgt. Bergdahl from his Taliban captors ... only to place him in a cell," said Capt. Nina Banks, one of his defense attorneys.

Bergdahl pleaded guilty Oct. 16 to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. The judge has wide discretion on sentencing Bergdahl because he didn't strike a plea agreement with prosecutors to limit his punishment. A bad conduct or dishonorable discharge would deprive Bergdahl of most or all of his veterans' benefits.

The 31-year-old soldier from Hailey, Idaho, was brought home by President Barack Obama in 2014 in a swap for five Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Obama said at the time the U.S. does not leave its service members on the battlefield. Republicans roundly criticized Obama, and Donald Trump went further while campaigning for president, repeatedly calling Bergdahl a traitor who deserved serious punishment.

(by Jonathan Drew, Associated Press)