US Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, held captive by the Taliban for five years after walking off his post in Afghanistan, pleaded guilty on Monday during a military hearing at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
His decision to plead guilty and avoid trial was reported earlier this month and looks likely to close the eight-year saga that began in June 2009, when the then-23-year-old private first class disappeared from his post near the Afghan border with Pakistan after five months in the country.
In an interview filmed last year by a British filmmaker and obtained by ABC news, Bergdahl said that he didn’t think it was possible for him to get a fair trial under President Donald Trump, who made Bergdahl a target during his campaign.
“We’re tired of Sgt. Bergdahl, who’s a traitor, a no-good traitor, who should have been executed,” Trump said at a Las Vegas rally in 2015. “You know in the old days — Bing. Bong,” Trump said while mimicking firing a rifle. “When we were strong.”
“We may as well go back to kangaroo courts and lynch mobs that got what they wanted,” Bergdahl said in the interview. “The people who want to hang me, you’re never going to convince those people.”
Reuters/James Glover II
According to Bergdahl’s lawyers, Trump referred to Bergdahl as a traitor at least 45 times during the campaign, and they argued those comments would unfairly influence the case, filing an unsuccessful motion to dismiss in January.
Bergdahl’s lawyers were also prevented from asking potential jurors if they voted for Trump. In August, Bergdahl decided to face trial in front of a judge alone, rather than a jury.
Bergdahl was immediately captured after leaving his post and held for five years by the Haqqani network. Videos of him in captivity were released by the Taliban, and the US monitored him using drones, spies, and satellites.
Washington also pursued behind-the-scenes negotiations to get his release, and in May 2014 he was given to US special forces in exchange for five Taliban detainees who were held at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.
Bergdahl has said he left his post in order to draw attention to what he saw as problems with his unit and its leadership. An Army Sanity Board Evaluation found that he suffered from schizotypal personality disorder.
The nature of Bergdahl’s capture and release led to debate over whether the trade was worth it and about whether he was a hero or deserter. Some soldiers held Bergdahl responsible for wounds they suffered during the search for him. An Army judge later ruled that testimony from troops harmed during the search would be allowed, strengthening the prosecutor’s case.
US officials have described Bergdahl’s treatment in captivity as the worst case of prisoner abuse since the Vietnam War, with his captors beating him and locking him in a small cage for extended periods of time.
In the interview, Bergdahl — who twice attempted to escape his captors — said he wanted to fight the “false narrative” put out by conservative media portraying him as a traitor and jihadi sympathizer. He was not charged with any crime related to helping the enemy.
“You know, it’s just insulting frankly,” Bergdahl told the interviewer. “It’s very insulting, the idea that they would think I did that.”
Sentencing will start on October 23, according to an Associated Press report published earlier this month.