Bergdahl Sentencing Hearing Begins Monday In Fort Bragg, N.C.

Oct 23, 2017
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A military judge is preparing to sentence Bowe Bergdahl. He's the Army sergeant who walked away from his combat post in one of the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan back in 2009. The Taliban captured Bergdahl and held him for five years. He was released as part of an exchange. President Obama freed five Taliban members held at Guantanamo Bay in return for Bergdahl. Here's Obama speaking with Bergdahl's parents at the White House in 2014.

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BARACK OBAMA: As president, I know that I speak for all Americans when I say that we cannot wait for the moment when you are reunited and your son, Bowe, is back in your arms.

MARTIN: But many were critical of the deal that freed Bowe Bergdahl, and last week he pled guilty to desertion and to endangering his fellow soldiers. Bergdahl's sentencing hearing opens this morning. NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre is covering it from Fort Bragg, N.C., where it's taking place. Hi, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: What sort of testimony are we likely to hear today?

MYRE: Well, quite a range. This - consider this sort of a mini trial that could go on for a couple days. Bergdahl himself could speak at some point. We're expecting that, but we're also likely to hear from one or more members of the military who were injured and perhaps somebody who was badly injured while searching for Bergdahl. Many in the military community say that there were soldiers killed in the search for Bergdahl over the years. The Army has not found direct proof of that, and we don't expect that to be introduced into the case, but we could hear from a wide range of people. This case has stirred a lot of passion, and we may get some very emotional testimony in the coming days.

MARTIN: Any idea what kind of sentence the judge might hand down?

MYRE: No, we don't. And that's what makes this really fascinating. The judge, who's an Army colonel, Jeffrey Nance, has huge discretion here. He could let Bergdahl walk free. He could say that the five years he served in Taliban captivity is punishment enough. It was very harsh. He was tortured. He was beaten. But at the other extreme, he could also give him life in prison. The charge that Bergdahl pleaded guilty to last week, endangering his comrades, or, technically, misbehavior in front of the enemy, does potentially carry a life sentence. So there's this wide range of outcomes that we could see in the case here.

MARTIN: I mean, this is such an unusual case for so many reasons. Some people in our audience might know that the podcast "Serial" actually focused its second season on the Bowe Bergdahl case, and that's just one of several external factors that could potentially have an impact on this decision, right?

MYRE: No. Exactly, Rachel. People have heard from Bergdahl in his own voice providing a very detailed description of why he did this. He said he walked off his base because he didn't feel his unit was being run properly. And he had this notion, quite crazy, certainly, in retrospect, that he was going to walk 20 miles or nearly 20 miles across a very dangerous part of Afghanistan and reach a higher-level officer and explain what was going on. So there's that issue. Again, his release was a trade for five Taliban members who are still in Qatar and being monitored there. An Army psychiatrist has found that Bergdahl shows signs of a personality disorder. So there are people on all sides here who say Bergdahl really needs to be punished or Bergdahl has suffered enough. And we're going to wait and see what the judge hands down.

MARTIN: And of course even President Trump has weighed in on this.

MYRE: Yes, he has, and he theoretically should not as the commander in chief of the military.

MARTIN: NPR's Greg Myre at Fort Bragg, N.C. Thanks so much, Greg.

MYRE: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.