Bowe Bergdahl was sentenced Friday to a dishonorable discharge from the Army for abandoning his outpost in eastern Afghanistan back in 2009 – but the controversial soldier received no jail time.
The former U.S. Army Sergeant was also demoted from a sergeant to a private as part of military judge Col. Jeffrey R. Nance’s ruling; Nance further ordered Bergdahl to forfeit $1,000 a month of his pay for 10 months as reparations for his crime, and stripped him of all benefits usually afforded to military veterans.
According to The Washington Post, Nance told Bergdahl during the defense’s closing remarks Thursday that a dishonorable discharge from the Army would be “socially stigmatizing.”
In June 2009, Bergdahl walked off his base in eastern Afghanistan, presumably in an attempt to cause a crisis and draw attention to issues he had with his superiors. He was captured by armed Taliban fighters within hours of his desertion and held captive by the Haqqani network, a group in Pakistan that tortured him on and off for five years.
His decision to leave his post led to numerous debates and plenty of controversy over the years, primarily surrounding the military’s principle of never leaving a soldier behind, and the circumstances leading to his 2014 release.
According to the prosecution, Bergdahl’s desertion cost the U.S. Army time and manpower as thousands of U.S. and Afghan troops were tasked with searching for Bergdahl after he initially went missing. Several troops were wounded during search missions, including Sgt. First Class Mark Allen, who was shot through the head and lost his ability to walk, talk or take care of himself.
“Mark Allen is in pain all of the time,” prosecutor Maj. Justin Oshana said during the hearing Thursday. “The only difference is that Sergeant Bergdahl can tell someone where his pain is. Master Sergeant Allen cannot.”
For these reasons and more, former president Barack Obama’s decision to secure his release by exchanging five Taliban militants for his return in 2014 was later met with extreme scrutiny and criticism.
In his defense, Bergdahl’s attorneys noted that Bergdahl exhibited symptoms of schizotypal personality disorder, and his thinking was impaired when he decided to desert his outpost. The prosecution rejected the claims, however.
“It wasn’t a mistake, it was a crime,” Oshana said Thursday.
Bergdahl’s case was a point of contention during the 2016 presidential elections, with then-presidential candidate Donald Trump calling Bergdahl a “dirty, rotten traitor” who deserved to be executed. The president currently referenced his own inflammatory comments in reference to the case. (The Bergdahl case was also the subject of season 2 of blockbuster podcast Serial in late 2015 and early 2016.)
The prosecution initially sought a sentence of 14 years in prison, with Bergdahl’s attorneys appealing for dishonorable discharge instead.
“Justice is not rescuing Sgt. Bergdahl from his Taliban captors, in the cage where he was for years, only to place him in a cell,” Capt. Nina Banks, a member of the defense counsel, said Thursday.
Nance’s Friday sentence will be reviewed by Gen. Robert B. Abrams, who convened the court-martial, with the possibility of lessening the punishment but not increasing it. If Abrams determines that a dishonorable discharge is indeed the apt sentence, then it will be automatically reviewed by the United States Army Court of Criminal Appeals.