Bergdahl Defense Nears End Of Its Sentencing Arguments

Nov 1, 2017

FILE - In this Jan. 12, 2016, file photo, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl arrives for a pretrial hearing at Fort Bragg, N.C. Bergdahl says he left a post in Afghanistan in 2009 to draw attention to what he saw as leadership problems in newly released documents from a military investigation. The documents were released Wednesday, March 16, 2016, by Bergdahl's attorneys.
Credit Ted Richardson, File / AP

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's attorneys are nearing the end of their defense for the soldier who pleaded guilty to endangering his comrades by walking away from his remote post in Afghanistan in 2009.

So far, Bergdahl has testified, apologizing to the troops that were wounded in the search for him. And two military agents who debriefed Bergdahl testified Tuesday about how much valuable intelligence he provided when he was returned in a prisoner swap.

Prosecutors presented evidence that the wounds to the troops who searched for him merit stiff punishment. Bergdahl faces up to life in prison. The military judge hearing the case has wide discretion on his punishment because Bergdahl didn't strike a plea agreement with prosecutors when he admitted to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.

The defense plans to call three more witnesses Wednesday. Closing arguments are expected later this week.

The two debriefing specialists said Bergdahl helped the military better understand insurgents and how they imprison hostages.

Amber Dach, who spent 16 years in military intelligence, was the primary analyst assigned to Bergdahl's case for the five years after he disappeared. She described how eager he was to help intelligence officials at a hospital in Germany days after he was returned to U.S. authorities.

"He was very motivated to just download all of the details that he recalled," she testified. "It was a gold mine. It really reshaped the way we did intel collection in the area."

An official from the military agency that helps reintegrate former captives and develops survival training for service members testified that information Bergdahl provided him was invaluable.

Terrence Russell developed a 1,200-page transcript from debriefing Bergdahl that was turned into a database. The information produced reports on tactics used by insurgents and hostage-takers in the region that are still used by the military.

Russell said he'd like to learn even more from Bergdahl but the soldier's legal case has impeded that.
"Can you give him to me tomorrow? I need him. I need him now," he said to a defense attorney. "The fact that I can't get that information is wrong. I need that."

He said he'd like to add Bergdahl to a roster of about 30 service members taken captive in recent conflicts dating to the Gulf War who can provide videos or lectures for military survival training.

He also reaffirmed his previous statements that Bergdahl's captivity was worse than any American prisoner of war has experienced since the Vietnam era.

On Monday, Bergdahl began the defense's sentencing presentation to apologize to those wounded searching for him. He also described the brutal conditions he faced, including beatings with copper wire and unending bouts of gastrointestinal problems brought on by squalid conditions. He said he was kept in a cage for four out of the five years in captivity after several escape attempts. He said his muscles became so weak he could barely stand or walk.

Russell, who's debriefed more than 100 former hostages and prisoners of war, said Bergdahl's time in the cage was damaging psychologically because he was kept in isolation nearly the entire time.

"They simply shut the door. Long-term isolation. Psychological abuse," he said. "It was extreme neglect. They just let him nearly rot inside that cage for four years."

The 31-year-old soldier from Hailey, Idaho, was brought home by President Barack Obama in 2014 in a swap for five Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Obama said at the time the U.S. does not leave its service members on the battlefield. Republicans roundly criticized Obama, and Donald Trump went further while campaigning for president, repeatedly calling Bergdahl a "dirty, rotten traitor" who deserved to be executed by firing squad or thrown out of a plane without a parachute.