Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, an Army deserter and five-year captive of the Taliban, could be facing life in an American prison.
The circumstances of the soldier and his capture have been shrouded in controversy since they first emerged nearly eight years ago.
On a June night in 2009, Bergdahl sent a series of e-mails to his family, laying out his intention to leave the military, renounce his citizenship, and start a new life. Told to “follow his conscience” by his father, the soldier left a note in his tent telling his platoon that he’d deserted.
While the events surrounding Bergdahl’s capture aren’t certain, a Taliban video released in July showed the soldier dressed and designated as a captive.
After unsuccessfully trying to escape from his captors, Bergdahl was subjected to repeated abuses, including routine beatings and torture. He was locked in a metal cage and left in darkness for weeks at a time.
The abuse Bergdahl underwent in captivity has been considered the worst an American serviceman has endured since the Vietnam War.
The sergeant – who was promoted from private first class while a hostage – was eventually released as part of a prisoner swap arranged by then-President Barack Obama.
Since entering politics, Donald Trump has been a harsh critic of Bergdahl, calling him a “dirty rotten traitor” and saying the sergeant should be executed.
“Bing, bong!” Trump told his supporters at a pre-election rally, mimicking the sound of a rifle being fired.
The judge in Bergdahl’s case, Col. Jeffrey R. Nance of the U.S. Army, said he thought Trump’s claims were “disturbing” but not grounds enough to dismiss the case for lack of a fair trial.
On Monday, a similar motion was entered by Bergdahl’s attorneys, who pointed to another comment Trump made – a comment which appeared to endorse his earlier call for the soldier’s execution.
“They’re setting up sentencing, so I’m not going to comment on him,” said Trump, who has never served in the military. “But I think people have heard my comments in the past.”
The New York Times reports the judge is expected to rule on the latest motion by Wednesday.
The preliminary hearing officer in the case, Lt. Col. Mark Visiger, appeared to lend some credence to the defense.
Visiger said that, while there was enough evidence Bergdahl deserted to proceed with a court martial, it is likely that the sergeant was suffering from a severe psychological disorder when he walked off base.
Bergdahl had previously been washed out from Coast Guard basic training for mental health reasons; a physician working with that branch said he should be evaluated by a psychiatrist before being allowed to reenlist in the military.
The Army apparently did not heed the physician’s advice and may have ignored Bergdahl’s mental health complaints while he was serving in Afghanistan.
The case became further muddied when U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) lambasted Bergdahl as a clear example of a “desert.”
McCain, as head of the Armed Services Committee, has the authority to promote the general overseeing the court martial. When asked by the Army to issue a “curative statement” – an effort to reduce any potential political interference – McCain’s office didn’t respond.
Bergdahl has since pled guilty to the charges he’s been accused of, presumably in a last-minute plea for mercy.