Bowe Bergdahl: Judge orders no prison time for US soldier in desertion case | News | DW | 03.11.2017
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Bowe Bergdahl: Judge orders no prison time for US soldier in desertion case

US soldier Bowe Bergdahl has been spared prison time for deserting his post in Afghanistan in 2009, but a military judge ordered that he be dishonorably discharged. President Donald Trump called the ruling a "disgrace."

A military judge ruled on Friday that US soldier Bowe Bergdahl should not receive a prison sentence for endangering his fellow troops when he walked off his post in Afghanistan.

The 31-year-old US Army sergeant was given a dishonorable discharge, his rank was reduced to private, and he was ordered to forfeit his pay amounting to a $10,000 (€8,619) fine, the military judge said at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

Bergdahl previously pleaded guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy and faced a potential life sentence in prison. 

Here are the main points in the case: 

— Bergdahl left his combat outpost in Afghanistan's Paktika province in June 2009 without permission

— He was subsequently captured by the Taliban and spent five years in captivity

— Bergdahl was freed and brought back to the US in 2014 in exchange for five Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo Bay

— The swap, arranged by former US President Barack Obama, was harshly criticized by Republicans

Trump rails against ruling

US President Donald Trump swiftly condemned the military judge's decision on Twitter, calling it a "complete and total disgrace to our Country and to our Military."

While on the campaign trail last year, current US President Donald Trump called Bergdahl "a no-good traitor who should have been executed."

Earlier this week, the military judge in the case warned that Trump's repeated remarks on the case could "mitigate" the sentencing.

U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl leaves the courthouse after an arraignment hearing for his court-martial in Fort Bragg, North Carolina (Reuters/J. Drake)

Experts testified that Bergdahl suffered from mental disorders

Politically charged trial

Prosecutors were seeking a much harsher 14-year prison sentence for Bergdahl, saying that the prison term was justified based on the injuries sustained by service members who searched for the soldier. 

"Sergeant Bergdahl does not have a monopoly on suffering as a result of his choices," said Major Justin Oshana, a prosecutor.

Bergdahl's defense team argued that the soldier suffered from several mental health conditions — with experts testifying that a schizophrenia-like condition likely led him to leave his post — and should not be sent to prison. They also said Bergdahl had suffered enough confinement during five years in Taliban captivity.

The dishonorable discharge ruling means that the decision will be automatically appealed to a higher military court. Prior to the appeal, a general will also review the ruling, but they cannot increase the sentence.

rs/rt (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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