Tuesday 23 January 2018

Deserter Bergdahl faces life in jail after guilty pleas

U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. Photo: U.S Army/Handout via REUTERS
U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. Photo: U.S Army/Handout via REUTERS

Jonathan Drew

US soldier Bowe Bergdahl faces life in prison after pleading guilty to desertion and "misbehaviour" in Afghanistan that left him a Taliban captive for five years.

"I understand that leaving was against the law," said Sgt Bergdahl, whose decision to walk off his remote post in Afghanistan in 2009 prompted intense search and recovery missions, during which some of his comrades were seriously wounded.

Sgt Bergdahl (31) is accused of endangering his comrades by abandoning his post without authorisation. He told a general after his release from five years in enemy hands that he did it with the intention of reaching other commanders and drawing attention to what he saw as problems with his unit.

The prosecution made no agreement to limit Sgt Bergdahl's punishment in return for the soldier's guilty pleas. He may be hoping for leniency. Misbehaviour carries a maximum penalty of life in prison, while desertion is punishable by up to five years.

The guilty pleas bring the politicised saga closer to an end eight years after Sgt Bergdahln. Former president Barack Obama, who approved the prisoner swap that brought Sgt Bergdahl home in 2014, said the US did not leave its service members on the battlefield, but he was roundly criticised by Republicans.

Campaigning for the presidency, Donald Trump repeatedly called Sgt Bergdahl a "dirty, rotten traitor" and suggested he deserved to be executed by firing squad or thrown out of a plane without a parachute.

Sgt Bergdahl's sentencing hearing is scheduled to begin on October 23.

The soldier's case was the subject of the celebrated US podcast 'Serial' in its second series.

Irish Independent

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