A judge has ruled that Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl — who abandoned his post in Afghanistan in 2009, leading to the deaths of 6 fellow soldiers and a military dog sent to find him — will serve no time in prison for his desertion.
Army Col. Judge Jeffery R. Nance said Bergdahl will be dishonorably discharged and have his rank reduced to private. He issued the ruling Friday after nearly two weeks of testimony by Bergdahl’s former comrades. Bergdahl, 31, was held by the Taliban for five years before being released in a prisoner swap in 2014.
Bergdahl pleaded guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy on Oct. 16 and faced the possibility of life in prison. Prosecutors asked the judge to sentence him to 14 years behind bars, arguing that he was responsible for serious injuries soldiers suffered in the massive search effort to find him.
Bergdahl, who apologized earlier this week to the families of the men who died, said his intent on June 29, 2009 was never to desert but rather to walk to a base 18 miles away to report problems he saw within the leadership command of his unit. He was instead captured almost immediately by Taliban and, he says, tortured at their hands until then-President Obama traded several known terrorists held in Guantánamo Bay for his release.
Bergdahl pleaded guilty in October and offered emotional testimony in an attempt to explain his behavior.
“It was never my intention for anyone to be hurt, and I never expected that to happen,” he said during the hearing in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. “I grieve for those who suffered and their families … I was trying to help, and knowing that I did not breaks my heart.”
Bergdahl will be dishonorably discharged, will lose his military rank, and will forfeit pay as punishment instead.