Was five years in Taliban captivity enough punishment? The military judge in Bowe Bergdahl’s court-martial for desertion and misbehavior before the enemy has apparently reached that conclusion. Bergdahl will get a dishonorable discharge at a lower rank and forfeit his back pay, but will leave the military a free man otherwise:
Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will serve no prison time for endangering fellow soldiers when he walked off his post in Afghanistan in 2009 and was captured by the Taliban.
Army Col. Judge Jeffery R. Nance said Bergdahl will be dishonorably discharged when issuing the ruling Friday after nearly two weeks of testimony by Bergdahl’s former comrades. Bergdahl, 31, was held by the Taliban for five years before being released in a prisoner swap in 2014.
Nance repeatedly ruled that he could give Bergdahl a fair hearing and sentence despite repeated comments from his commander in chief Donald Trump on the case. Nance may have felt the need to bend over backwards to demonstrate the independence of military justice, or he may simply have concluded that Bergdahl had served as a political football for long enough. It doesn’t make a lot of sense as a punishment, especially in the context of the need to maintain military discipline. Bergdahl’s Taliban captivity was entirely Bergdahl’s doing. All this does is make a dishonorable discharge the only consequence of desertion, which basically makes the action its own punishment.
It’s too glib to say that Trump may be hardest hit by this sentence. The families of those lost and wounded in attempts to recover him after his desertion will no doubt feel the most pain over the lack of further consequences for Bergdahl. But still, Trump will no doubt want to revisit his remarks from the campaign trail after this outcome:
The charges didn’t carry the risk of the death penalty, but prosecutors asked for 14 years in prison rather than the potential life sentence that they did carry. Leniency might have been to split the difference with a five-to-seven year stretch at Leavenworth, which would have shown mercy while still underscoring the consequences of desertion to others within the military.
Charles Morgan, a forensic psychologist, told the judge, Col. Jeffery R. Nance, that he diagnosed Bergdahl with a schizophrenia-like illness after speaking with the soldier, conducting tests, interviewing family members and reviewing relevant records.
He’s prone to paranoia, severe social anxiety, unconventional beliefs and socially awkward behavior, Morgan said. Bergdahl, he added, has contemplated self-castration, believing it would purify him, and has trouble understanding how to form social relationships.
Morgan’s findings are consistent with an Army sanity board document, he added, but stressed that it is not a psychotic condition and that Bergdahl is mentally competent.
Morgan concluded that Bergdahl had the condition before he enlisted in the Army, suffering also from post-traumatic stress disorder from a hot-tempered father who allegedly punched holes in walls and sent Bergdahl fleeing when he heard his father’s truck rumbling toward their home in Idaho.
Bergdahl had a panic attack in Coast Guard training in 2006, which led to his dismissal. He joined the Army with a waiver in 2008.
Don’t bet on Bergdahl’s status as a political flash point being over after Nance’s decision — not by a long shot. Trump will almost certainly see to that.
Update: John Podhoretz isn’t surprised, as Nance all but said he’d be going easy on Bergdahl earlier, thanks to Trump’s remarks:
So the judge went easy on Bergdahl to go after Trump. He all but said so earlier in the week. That’s wrong. pic.twitter.com/dXDNMGPwDa
— John Podhoretz (@jpodhoretz) November 3, 2017