Army deserter Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl learned his fate Friday. That’s when Army Col. Judge Jeffery R. Nance ruled Bergdahl will be dishonorably discharged and busted from sergeant to private. The judge also ordered him to forfeit $1,000 of his pay per month for 10 months.
Judge Nance rejected the request from Army prosecutors for him to sentence Bergdahl to 14 years in prison for “the hardships and injuries endured by service members who searched in vain for him” after he deserted.
Bergdahl, 31, abandoned his outpost in Afghanistan in 2009, thereby endangering his fellow soldiers. He was soon captured by the Taliban and held by them for five years. Thanks to former President Barack Obama, Bergdahl was released in exchange for five top Taliban terrorists in a controversial prisoner swap in 2014.
Judge Nance issued his ruling Friday morning at Ft. Bragg, N.C., after nearly two weeks of sentencing hearings that included testimony from Bergdahl’s former comrades, as well as service members wounded in action in a futile search for him after he deserted.
Judge Nance did not elaborate on his decision. Nor did he need to. Bergdahl had already pleaded guilty to the charges of desertion and “misbehavior before the enemy.” He had also expressed remorse for his actions. Moreover, he cooperated fully with military officials during his pre-trial debriefings, giving them valuable information on the Taliban.
In my view, Judge Nance’s ruling on Bergdahl’s punishment was a classic case of “justice, tempered with mercy.” Based on my own experience with administering military justice, I’m confident Judge Nance weighed and considered all the circumstances surrounding Bergdahl’s case. And that includes “matters of extenuation and mitigation.”
That said, I’m sure Judge Nance will be severely criticized for “being soft” on Bergdahl, the Army deserter. President Donald Trump has already weighed in with his opinion. “The decision on Sergeant Bergdahl is a complete and total disgrace to our Country and to our military,” tweeted Trump right after Judge Nance announced his decision Friday morning.
I will defer to Judge Nance on his decision and leave the excoriation of it to others, including the so-called “experts,” who think they know more than he does about Bergdahl’s case. They don’t, of course. But hey, this is America, where you don’t have to know anything to have an opinion on it.
One more thing. Being dishonorably discharged for desertion and misbehavior before the enemy makes Bowe Bergdahl a marked man for life.
He will be denied military benefits, and find it hard to get and hold a good job. If his sentence holds up through the automatic appeals process provided under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, his plight as a pariah could be punishment enough.
Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.