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October 17, 2017

You be the Army judge: what sentence for Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new AP article headlined "Bergdahl guilty pleas leave room for drama at sentencing." Here is the context for the question:

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's guilty plea to charges of endangering comrades in Afghanistan has set up a dramatic sentencing hearing that could land him in prison for life.  Bergdahl, who was captured and held by the Taliban for five years after leaving his remote post in Afghanistan in 2009, pleaded guilty Monday in North Carolina to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, a rare charge that carries a potential life sentence.

Because Bergdahl had no plea deal with prosecutors, his punishment will be decided by the judge, Army Col. Jeffery R. Nance, at a hearing starting Oct. 23.  Bergdahl was thoroughly questioned by Nance at his plea hearing at Fort Bragg, and the soldier acknowledged that his actions — and subsequent military search missions — put fellow service members in harm's way. "I left my fellow platoon mates," he told the judge. "That's very inexcusable."

At sentencing, the judge is expected to weigh factors including Bergdahl's willingness to accept responsibility by pleading guilty, his time in captivity of the Taliban and its allies, and serious wounds to service members who searched for him.  "Pleading guilty before a judge without any protection from a deal is a risky move," said Eric Carpenter, a former Army lawyer who teaches law at Florida International University. "The military judge can sentence Bergdahl to zero punishment, but he can also sentence Bergdahl to life in prison."

The guilty plea brings the highly politicized saga closer to an end eight years after Bergdahl vanished. President Barack Obama brought him home in 2014 in a swap for five Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, saying 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 "dirty, rotten traitor" who deserved to be executed by firing squad or thrown out of a plane without a parachute.

Bergdahl, 31, has said he walked away from his remote post in 2009 with the intention of reaching other commanders and drawing attention to what he saw as problems with his unit. "At the time, I had no intention of causing search-and-recovery operations," he said in court. "I believed they would notice me missing, but I didn't believe they would have reason to search for one private."...

Bergdahl's responses to the judge Monday were some of his most extensive public comments yet. He said he tried to escape from his captors 12 to 15 times, with varying degrees of success.  Once, he was on his own for about a week — hoping U.S. drones would spot him — before he was recaptured.  He said he also tried to escape on his first day in captivity. "As I started running there came shouts, and I was tackled by people. That didn't go so well," said Bergdahl, who spoke in even tones and wore a blue dress uniform.

Meanwhile, Bergdahl's fellow service members engaged in firefights that they could have avoided had Bergdahl not gone absent without leave, the judge said.  Those firefights left a Navy SEAL with a career-ending leg wound and an Army National Guard sergeant with a head wound that put him in a wheelchair.

As for the defense contention that Trump unfairly biased the court-martial against Bergdahl, a ruling in February found that the new president's comments were "disturbing and disappointing" but did not constitute unlawful influence by the soon-to-be commander in chief.

October 17, 2017 at 11:37 AM | Permalink


Five years captivity is enough prison time.

I open to various other punishments, interested in what is on the table there.

Posted by: Joe | Oct 17, 2017 11:50:12 AM

Time served. He's suffered enough.

Posted by: Anon | Oct 17, 2017 11:54:50 AM

I believe time served , for this defendant , would be too light ⚖️

Life would be too harsh ⚖️

Posted by: Docile the Kind Soul | Oct 17, 2017 2:57:21 PM

Five years captivity is more than enough. Where was his commander? It was apparent the soldier was having issues, Maybe if they were addressed other lives lost would of not happened? I am not making light of the situation, but this is UGLY. Leave the poor guy alone PLEASE! He has been in HELL for Five years then he comes home to MORE! He has been punished ENOUGH!

Posted by: STEPHANIE ECHOLS | Oct 17, 2017 4:16:01 PM

Time served, including all the time in foreign lands. He might be wacko. Make him go to a shrink once a month.

Posted by: Liberty Second | Oct 17, 2017 8:04:26 PM

I cant believe it, all if totally agree, 5 yrs captive over there is plenty. What could possibly be gained by retaining him. Im sure he could yse some help as mentioned, like a big time.

Great post guys.

Posted by: MidWestGuy | Oct 17, 2017 9:25:18 PM

Federal law requires 30 years in prison for using a machine gun in the commission of a robbery where no one is hurt.

What Bergdhal did was even worse than robbing a 711 with a machine gun, so i'd give him 31 years.

Posted by: Desertion is worse than owning a machine gun | Oct 17, 2017 10:17:29 PM

What he did was worse than Bernie Madoff, so i'd give him a longer sentence than the 150 years Madoff got.

Posted by: Desertion is worse than fraud | Oct 17, 2017 10:21:03 PM

Doug, at the risk of restarting a debate---Obama's utter immorality is shown by this case. He's un-American scum.

Bergdahl should be executed.

Posted by: federalist | Oct 18, 2017 8:54:09 PM


If I'm not mistaken, only treason gets the death penalty, not "mere" desertion. Desertion may get life (LWOP), but I think you have to act against the U.S. to get death, not just ignore your responsibilities and duties--otherwise Hillary would be eligible when she left our people to die in Benghazi.

Posted by: Molyneuxing about | Oct 19, 2017 3:58:40 AM

federalist: I would love to see your accounting of the 10 most immoral things you think Obama did over 8 years as Prez so I can compare your list to Trump's behavior over his first 9 months.

Posted by: Doug B | Oct 19, 2017 8:15:56 AM

Neat mixture of technical legal analysis and partisan potshotting. The usage of "Molyneuxing" also seems sort of an inside joke of sorts.

Posted by: Joe | Oct 19, 2017 10:57:01 AM

as a veteran all I can say to the fools who side with bergdahl. freedom is not free.and unless you have given your self to the thinking that you know squat about the battle field just take a knee.you are blocking my view of the truth.I put my life on the line! who are you?

Posted by: clifton brinkley | Oct 19, 2017 11:33:59 AM

Guy was in captivity with the Taliban for five years (he tried to escape repeatedly. so he wasn't merely some sort of 5th columnist), which is the issue for those who think more detention would be gratutious. As to knowing things:


I saw a similar reference in a recent article. But, I hold to my position -- further detention is not necessary but some other penalty very well might be.

Posted by: Joe | Oct 19, 2017 12:31:42 PM

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