Vladstudioraw/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s trial reached the deliberation phase on Thursday, with prosecutors recommending military judge Col. Jeffery Nance sentence him to 14 years confinement, a reduction in rank and a dishonorable discharge.
Defense attorneys are advocating for a more lenient sentence for Bergdahl, who was captured and held captive by Taliban militants for five years after walking off his post in a remote region of Afghanistan. They recommended the dishonorable discharge but pushed for no confinement.
Bergdahl, 31, faces up to life in prison after he pleaded guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy for abandoning his Army post in Afghanistan in June 2009.
“He relives that torture he experienced for five years,” Cpt. Nina Banks, one of Bergdahl’s defense attorneys, said during closing arguments at the courthouse on Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Thursday. “He will forever carry those scars with him.”
But the prosecution focused on the men who searched for Bergdahl after his disappearance, risking injury and death. Some of those soldiers gave emotional testimony during the six-day sentencing phase of the trial.
“[Bergdahl] described that choice as a huge mistake. But your honor, words have meaning,” Maj. Justin C. Oshana, a prosecuting attorney, told Nance. “It wasn’t a mistake. It was a crime.”
Since both sides recommended the dishonorable discharge, Nance asked Bergdahl if he understood that his only option at this point is to give him a bad conduct discharge or a dishonorable discharge, either of which would stigmatize Bergdahl and cause him to lose all medical and education benefits.
Bergdahl became visibly choked up and could barely utter the words “yes, sir” in response.
Nance asked then Bergdahl, “Do you consent to a dishonorable discharge if it will preclude you from going to confinement?” Bergdahl again replied, “Yes, sir.”
Bergdahl’s lawyers called upon a forensic psychiatrist to testify that he is suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and has symptoms similar to schizophrenia. But the defense is not pursuing a mental insanity defense.
Deliberation is ongoing Thursday afternoon and is expected to continue Friday morning.
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