President Trump’s harsh criticism of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who walked off his Army post in Afghanistan in 2009 and was captured by the Taliban, will weigh in favor of a lighter sentence for the sergeant, a military judge said on Monday.
“I will consider the president’s comments as mitigation evidence as I arrive at an appropriate sentence,” the judge, Col. Jeffery R. Nance of the Army, said during a hearing at Fort Bragg. The judge is expected to sentence Sergeant Bergdahl in the next few weeks.
The judge rejected a request that he dismiss the case or cap the length of the sentence on the grounds that the president’s comments had precluded a fair hearing. The judge said he had not been influenced by the remarks and that the public’s confidence in the military justice system had not been undermined.
Sergeant Bergdahl faces up to life imprisonment. He pleaded guilty on Oct. 16 to desertion and endangering the troops who were sent to search for him.
He testified on Monday that he deeply regretted that people “suffered because of my bad choices.”
“I’m admitting I made a horrible mistake,” the sergeant said on the witness stand. “It was never my intention for anyone to be hurt, and I never expected that to happen.”
As a candidate, Mr. Trump repeatedly called Sergeant Bergdahl a traitor and suggested that he should be executed or returned to the Taliban. On Oct. 16, Mr. Trump seemed to endorse those earlier sentiments, declining to say anything new about the case but adding, “I think people have heard my comments in the past.”
An Army investigator initially recommended that there be no jail time for Sergeant Bergdahl, who was held and tortured by the Taliban for five years. But anger — on the part of politicians and members of the military — over the sergeant’s actions may have contributed to the fact that he now faces the possibility of a long sentence.
In sentencing, mitigating factors weigh in favor of leniency while aggravating factors tip the scales toward harsher punishment. The judge’s decision means he will weigh Mr. Trump’s comments along with other mitigating factors presented by the defense, including evidence that Sergeant Bergdahl had a severe mental disorder and suffered torture in captivity.
SOURCE: RICHARD A. OPPEL Jr.
The New York Times