There is no longer a question as to the guilt of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. The soldier who chose to walk off his post in Afghanistan and was subsequently captured by Taliban forces he may have been seeking in 2009 chose to plead guilty to charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy earlier this month; the only thing that remains is for the judge, Army Col. Jeffrey Nance, to determine the appropriate sentence.
Nance has a great deal of discretion in determining the appropriate sentence for Bergdahl. Despite the guilty plea, Bergdahl could be allowed to walk out of the court room a free man if Nance feels the five years he was held hostage was sufficient punishment for his transgressions, but Nance could potentially also sentence the soldier to life in prison on the charge of misbehavior.
In order inform his decision, Nance has chosen to allow the testimony of three service members who were injured as a direct result of the effort to find and save Bergdahl from the repercussions of his desertion. One of those service members was Navy SEAL, Senior Chief Petty Officer James Hatch, who was forced to retire after an illustrious 26 year career in service to his country as a result of the injuries he sustained while searching for the wayward soldier. Hatch testified that he knew Americans would be hurt or killed trying to find Bergdahl, and he was aware that the soldier had deserted, but he didn’t hesitate to go forth with the mission for a simple reason: “He’s an American.”
“I said, ‘Hey man, someone’s going to get killed or hurt trying to get this kid,'” Hatch said on Wednesday. “Everyone on that mission was aware he walked off.”
According to his testimony, Hatch led a special operations team into Afghanistan’s Paktika province nine days after the soldier left his post. The two helicopters they were flying in on began taking heavy fire before they had even landed, and as they advanced on the location they believed Bergdahl was being held, Hatch was shot in the leg.
Although Hatch recounted screaming in pain, and fearing that he would be the cause of putting his team in harm’s way, his voice only faltered when the former SEAL, accompanied by his service dog, recounted the death of a service dog accompanying the team, Remko, who was shot in the head by a militant during the chaos of the firefight.
“I was laying there trying not to scream, but screaming. I really thought I was going to die,” Hatch recounted. His career ending injury resulted in 18 surgical procedures that have left him with a notable limp.
Bergdahl’s attorneys are pursuing a dismissal of the case, on the grounds of President Trump’s potential influence over the way it has unfolded. The president has made a number of public statements regarding Bergdahl, often calling him a “traitor,” and on one occasion, suggesting that he “should be shot.”
Last Monday, when asked about Bergdahl, President Trump said, “I can’t comment on Bowe Bergdahl. …But I think people have heard my comments in the past.”
Image courtesy of the Associated Press