Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl managed to avoid prison time on Friday, despite a military judge ordering that he be dishonorably discharged from the Army.
The former soldier made headlines in 2009 after disappearing from the outskirts of an Afghanistan military base.
Intensive search-and-rescue efforts continued in vain for months.
Confusion ensued after the Taliban revealed it was holding the soldier captive. As time wore on, so too did speculation – Bergdahl’s motives were questioned, in light of a letter he’d left declaring his intention to walk away from his outpost.
Some accused Bergdahl of being a deserter. Others, cynically, speculated that he may have harbored sympathies for the Taliban.
For five years, Bergdahl was kept under lock-and-chain, tortured regularly by his captors and told he’d never live to see his family. The soldier was beaten, shown videos of executions, and kept in a small metal cage. He lost his perception of time, left alone in a dark room for days on end.
Despite making numerus efforts to escape the Taliban, Bergdahl wasn’t released until then-President Barack Obama arranged a controversial prisoner exchange.
Five terrorists detained in American facilities were swapped for the sergeant – Bergdahl was promoted from private to his current rank while in captivity – who made his way home to an uncertain future.
Among Bergdahl’s most outspoken critics include Arizona senator and former prisoner-of-war John McCain, as well as President Donald Trump.
Both have, to varying extents, decried Bergdahl as a deserter and traitor, even as some military investigators recommended to his court martial that he serve no prison time.
Most notably, Bergdahl’s sentencing hearing was delayed following harsh comments from Commander-in-Chief Trump, who suggested on the campaign trail that the deserter be shot as punishment for risking American lives.
Asked by reporters whether he stood by his 2016 comments, Trump said his feelings were known – prompting Bergdahl’s defense to question whether the trial could proceed impartially.
Nevertheless, the case proceeded, with prosecutors requesting that Bergdahl serve 14 years in prison. They called in witnesses to describe and demonstrate how American lives had been put at risk to find a man who’d willfully walked off base, ostensibly to inform superiors at another outpost of “problems in the chain of command.”
The decision on Sergeant Bergdahl is a complete and total disgrace to our Country and to our Military.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 3, 2017
One Navy SEAL who participated in the search for Bergdahl tearfully described how his K-9 companion had been killed by Taliban fire, before he himself was injured.
Another Afghanistan veteran called to the stand referred to Bergdahl as a “coward” who was too meek to come forward with whatever complaints he had.
Even with criticism coming in from colleagues as well as high-profile politicians, the judges overseeing the investigation seem to make their decision to forego imprisonment based, in part, on the torture Bergdahl endured by the Taliban.
“The high-level folks who have looked at this said: ‘We just don’t think confinement is appropriate because of the amount of torture he suffered,’” said former Air Force lawyer Rachel VanLandingham, as reported by USA Today.
VanLandingham also brought up Bergdahl’s mental health, which had caused him to be disqualified from Coast Guard basic training prior to his enlistment in the Army.
“You have a mentally ill individual who served five years honorably in captivity. He genuinely showed remorse. And I think those things came across loud and clear,” she said.
In addition to being dishonorably discharged from the U.S. Army, Bergdahl will have to forfeit $1,000 per month of pay for 10 months.
Writing on Twitter, President Donald Trump called the lack of jail-time “a complete and total disgrace to our Country [sic] and to our Military [sic].”