In the first half of 2009, Bowe Bergdahl, a disillusioned member of the American military forces fighting in Afghanistan, walked away from his post. Shortly after, he was captured by the Taliban. He would not be released for another five years.
Bergdahl pleaded guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy last month, and was sentenced today. His charges potentially carry a life sentence, but due to time served (in Taliban custody), many expected the sentencing to be somewhat lenient.
The judge, Army Col. Jeffery R. Nance, sentenced him to pay $1,000 from his salary for the next 10 months, reduced his rank from sergeant to private, and gave him a dishonorable discharge. From CNN:
‘”Sgt. Bergdahl has looked forward to today for a long time,” Eugene Fidell, Bergdahl’s civilian attorney, said at a press conference after the sentence’s announcement.
‘”As everyone knows he was a captive of the Taliban for nearly five years, and three more years have elapsed while the legal process unfolded. He has lost nearly a decade of his life.”
‘The sentence is effective immediately, except for the dishonorable discharge, which Bergdahl is appealing, according to Fidell.’
In exchange for Bergdahl, five Guantanamo detainees were released, and the Obama administration faced heavy criticism among conservative pundits and press for the deal. Donald Trump also used him as a punching bag quite often on the campaign trail. However, many elected officials and veterans expressed support for his release, as well as the desire that his sentencing be light.
As deserting only carries a sentence of five years (the potential life sentence comes from the misbehavior charge), it’s easy to see why he wasn’t given prison time. He already served five years in Taliban prison, and was tortured while incarcerated. Here’s more, as excerpted by the Chicago Tribune and unedited:
‘In the beginning of my captivity, after my first two escape attempts, for about three months I was chained to a bed spread-eagle and blindfolded. The blindfold was only taken off a few times a day to allow me to eat and use the latrine.
‘… Because of the constant heat and sweat my body where it was in contact with the bed would become sore and raw, burning from the sweat and pressure. … my eyes where (sic) always burning and aching. Around my ankles where the chains where (sic), I developed open wounds that looked like the STAPH infection I had had earlier that year. The infection also appeared on my forehead and side of head … my body started a steady decline in constant internal sickness that would last through the final year.
‘In the first three months they fed me elbow noodles or rice and very little of anything else, as well as two bottles of water a day. But because of the growing internal sickness it became more and more of a problem to eat. During these months some of the things they did was beat the bottoms of my feet and parts of my body with a copper cable.
‘After the first three months they moved me. Though they never fully chained me to a bed again, the first year I spent in chains on both hands and feet … At this point, because of sickness, weather, and little food and water, hunger, and worse, dehydration my body continued a steady decline. … my ribs and joints patruded (sic) clearly, my skin losing all signs of fat and my muscles, from atrophy, reducing to thin tight cords or bumps that did barely to support me or keep my joints in place.
‘After the first year they put me inside a cage. In there my hands where (sic) always handcuffed in front of me, being taken off only on the few times I would wash and change clothes … I had between 8 and 12 open wounds on each wrist under the hand shackles. Not healing I would have to push the puss out of them daily. Then they moved the cage to another room over the top of plumbing that they had built into the dirt floor. After this, since they no longer had to take me out of the cage, they took ah the chains off me.
‘.. I was kept in constant isolation during the entire 5 years, with little to no understanding of time, through periods of constant darkness, periods of constant light, and periods of completely random flickering of light, and absolutely no understanding of anything that was happening beyond the door …
‘I was continuously shown Taliban videos. Told I was going to executed. Told I was never going back. Told I would leave the next day, and the next day told I would be there for 30 years. Told I was going to die there. Told to kill myself. Told I would have my ears and nose cutoff, as well as other parts of my body. I was told anything they could think of, weather it was through sign language, broken English, or fluent English.
‘My first escape attempt was within the first few hours of being captured. The Taliban stopped in a village …the younger one began asking a question, and after evading his questions he would hit me in the face … they put the blindfold back on and threw the blanket over my head. Some moments after that I believed I had a chance to run for it and did. I was brought down towards the edge of the village by a large group of men, on the ground I felt many blows from fists, and one from the butt stalk of an AK that broke it off the weapon.’
You can read more at the Tribune link above.
Despite this, prosecutors actually argued that Bergdahl should get over a decade in prison. Here’s video via Fox News on YouTube:
Here’s Bowe Bergdahl responding to those (like Trump) who call him a traitor:
Featured image via Sara D. Davis/Getty Images