WASHINGTON – US Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, held by the Taliban as a prisoner of war for five years until he was exchanged for five prisoners from Guantanamo, dodged a prison sentence on Friday after a special military court sentenced him to demotion and a dishonorable discharge for desertion in Afghanistan in 2009.
The sentence, handed down by a court-martial at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, allows Bergdahl to avoid the maximum penalty he faced, which was life in prison, while sentencing him to a demotion in rank to private (the lowest level), forfeiture of $10,000 and a dishonorable discharge, according to the CNN news channel.
Bergdahl was freed at the end of May 2014 after five years’ captivity in the hands of the Haqani network – possibly in Pakistan – thanks to a prisoner exchange organized by the US government that allowed the release of five Taliban leaders imprisoned at Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba.
Upon his return home, the Pentagon, which during his captivity promoted Bergdahl to the rank of sergeant, decided to investigate the circumstances of his disappearance from a post in the embattled Afghan province of Paktika, and recommended a military trial with a sentence of life imprisonment if found guilty.
After a long review of the case, the US armed forces decided to press charges against Bergdahl for desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.
The sergeant’s future had raised great interest among Americans both for the price paid for his release in a way that tends to be systematically rejected by US authorities, and for suspicions that Bergdahl might really have come to sympathize with the cause of his captors.
One who most criticized the prisoner exchange and the sergeant being treated like a hero on his return to the United States was Donald Trump, who slammed the soldier on more than 60 occasions during his presidential campaign last year.
The president came to call Bergdahl “a dirty rotten traitor” who ought to be executed.
Various members of his military unit also criticized him for voluntarily abandoning his post and putting his fellow soldiers’ lives at risk when they went out searching for him.
The soldier, who went through a reintegration process and a military investigation into the story of his captivity, finally pleaded guilty several weeks ago, though he feared that the constant attacks of the president would keep him from getting a fair trial.