U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who was held by the Taliban for nearly 5 years before his release as part of a controversial prisoner exchange, was spared prison Friday for endangering fellow soldiers when he deserted in Afghanistan.
Army Colonel Jeffery Nance said Bergdahl should be dishonorably discharged from the Army, demoted to private and forfeit $10,000 in pay. The sentence will be reviewed by General Robert Abrams, who has the power to lessen the punishment, ahead of an automatic appeal.
Bergdahl was facing a maximum sentence of life in military prison after pleading guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, but prosecutors were only seeking 14 years. Nance did not explain his reasoning for the sentence.
Earlier this week, Nance ruled that President Donald Trump’s recent comments, in which he referred to past statements in which he called for Bergdahl to be executed, did not constitute unlawful command influence. But Nance added that he would consider it a mitigating factor for Bergdahl’s sentencing.
The president quickly condemned Nance’s decision to spare Bergdahl from going to prison. “The decision on Sergeant Bergdahl is a complete and total disgrace to our Country and to our Military,” said Trump, who previously called Bergdahl a “dirty rotten traitor” who should be executed.
Bergdahl disappeared from a combat outpost in southeastern Afghanistan in June 2009 and later appeared in a video released by the Taliban, but the U.S. Army eventually concluded that Bergdahl had left the base of his own free will without authorization before being captured by the Taliban.
Bergdahl was released in May 2014 after President Barack Obama authorized the release of 5 Taliban commanders from Guantanamo Bay. It incited a wave of controversy in the United States, with critics calling Bergdahl a deserter who endangered the lives of his colleagues who tried to find him.
Several soldiers were seriously injured during the search for Bergdahl. “It’s definitely a slap in the face,” former Army Specialist Jonathan Morita, whose right hand was mangled by a rocket-propelled grenade during the search, told Reuters in response to Friday’s sentencing.
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