Bowe Bergdahl, the US Army sergeant who last month pleaded guilty to misbehavior before the enemy and desertion, has received a surprisingly light sentence from a military judge: dishonorable discharge.
He had been facing life in prison for abandoning his Afghanistan outpost in 2009, a sentence Donald Trump had famously claimed would be too light. Then-candidate Trump effectively called for Bergdahl’s execution at a campaign rally in July 2016: “Remember the old days, the deserter, what happened?” he asked a New Hampshire crowd. Trump then proceeded to point and mime firing a weapon with his both hands, adding, “bing, bong. When we were strong.” At other campaign stops, he repeatedly called Bergdahl a “dirty rotten traitor” who “should have been executed” and suggested he be shot or thrown from a plane.
Today (Nov. 3), Trump immediately denounced the military court’s sentence:
Trump’s earlier statements were used by Bergdahl’s defense to argue that the case should be dismissed. Military judge Jeffery Nance rejected the request, maintaining he had not been influenced by the comments of the man who became commander in chief but that he would consider Trump’s statements “as mitigation evidence” (paywall) in sentencing.
Bergdahl’s attorneys argued that the 31-year-old had suffered enough. After leaving the combat post, Bergdahl was held in captivity by allies of the Taliban for five years until he was released in a 2014 prisoner exchange under president Barack Obama. The torture and neglect he experienced was detailed in season two of the podcast Serial.
His attorneys also argued that along with post-traumatic stress disorder, Bergdahl had a personality disorder before enlisting and wasn’t aware of his actions or the consequences of his desertion, which included injuries sustained by US troops searching for him. The wife of one of those soldiers—master sergeant Mark Allen, who sustained a debilitating brain injury that left him paralyzed and unable to speak—acted as a witness for the prosecution.
Bergdahl’s case was a holdover from Obama’s administration, and a president who near the end of his term commuted the 35-year sentence of Chelsea Manning, the former Army private who served nearly seven years for leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks.
Manning’s pardon prompted speculation that Bergdahl would also be granted relief before Obama left office in January. His attorneys had sought a pre-trial pardon, saying Bergdahl could not get a fair review in court under the next president. In the end, the change in administration improved things for Bergdahl—at least when it came to keeping him out of prison.