Sentencing hearing of US army deserter Bergdahl postponed over lawyer emergency

US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, pleaded guilty last Monday to desertion and misbehaviour before the enemy, with the latter offence carrying a possible life sentence.
US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, pleaded guilty last Monday to desertion and misbehaviour before the enemy, with the latter offence carrying a possible life sentence.PHOTO: REUTERS

FORT BRAGG, NORTH CAROLINA (REUTERS) - The sentencing hearing for US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who could go to prison for life for deserting his duties in Afghanistan in June 2009 and endangering the lives of fellow troops, was postponed on Monday (Oct 23) for two days due to an emergency for a lawyer in the case. 

The proceedings at North Carolina’s Fort Bragg will resume on Wednesday, Army Judge Colonel Jeffery Nance said in court. 

The hearing is expected to include testimony from soldiers injured in the dangerous search for Sgt Bergdahl, who walked away from his combat outpost in Paktika province to report what he said were “critical problems” in his chain of command. 

Former Army Corporal Jonathan Morita told Reuters in a phone interview on Sunday that he may testify this week before Army Judge Colonel Jeffery Nance about his injuries, including one to his hand during a 2009 search operation.

Mr Morita said he believed Sergeant Bergdahl should be dishonourably discharged and sentenced to as much as life in prison.

"A fair sentence, I hope, for his actions and what it created," Mr Morita said.

Navy SEAL Senior Chief James Hatch, shot in the leg during an attempted rescue, is also expected to speak at the hearing, his attorney, Mr Buddy Rake, told KPHO-TV last week. Mr Rake could not be reached on Sunday.

The 31-year-old Sgt Bergdahl, an Idaho native, was quickly captured by the Taleban and spent the next five years suffering torture, abuse and neglect in captivity.

A Taleban prisoner swap that won his release in 2014, organised by the administration of then-Democratic President Barack Obama, was criticised by people in the military and by Republicans. 

During last year’s presidential campaign, Republican Donald Trump called Sgt Bergdahl “a no-good traitor who should have been executed". 

Bergdahl pleaded guilty on Oct 16 to desertion and misbehaviour before the enemy, with the latter offense carrying a possible life sentence. He entered a “naked plea", meaning he does not have an agreement about the sentencing terms with prosecutors.

In determining a sentence, the judge may consider Sergeant Bergdahl's time in captivity, while prosecutors may focus on the soldiers injured in the search.

Sergeant Bergdahl, who testified in court that he tried to escape his captors 15 times, admitted wrongdoing, but said he never intended to put anyone at risk.

"I didn't think there'd be any reason to pull off a crucial mission to look for one guy," he said, adding his actions were"very inexcusable".

Sergeant Bergdahl remains on active duty in a clerical job at a base in San Antonio.

The White House released a statement on Friday saying that the President expected those involved in military justice cases to use independent judgement. It did not mention Sergeant Bergdahl by name.

"Each military justice case must be resolved on its own facts," the statement said.