(UPI) — U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl pleaded guilty Monday in military court to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, setting up a sentencing hearing later this month.
Bergdahl, 31, was held captive by the Taliban in Afghanistan for five years before the Obama administration traded him in 2014 for five Taliban detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The judge, Army Col. Jeffery R. Nance, said Bergdhal’s maximum possible punishment is life in prison, but a sentencing hearing won’t be held until Oct. 23.
Endangering the troops who were sent to search for him carries a potential life sentence, and the desertion conviction has a sentence of up to five years.
During questioning from Nance at Fort Bragg, N.C., on Monday, Bergdahl said, “I left my observation post on my own.” He also said, “I understand leaving was against the law.”
Bergdahl said after his release that he made “somewhere between a dozen and 15 escape attempts” during his capture between June 2009 and May 2014. He was first celebrated after his release but subsequently called a traitor.
During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly called the sergeant a “dirty rotten traitor” and called for him to be executed. Nance ruled in February that Trump’s statements were “troubling,” but they had not prejudiced the case against the sergeant.
In an interview by ABC News Monday, Bergdahl told a British war filmmaker that he doubted he could get a fair trial because of Trump’s comments.
“We may as well go back to kangaroo courts and lynch mobs that got what they wanted,” Bergdahl said in the interview, which was conducted last year. “The people who want to hang me, you’re never going to convince those people.”
Bergdahl told the Army’s chief investigator, Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dahl, he left his base so he could walk to a larger base about 18 miles away and report leadership problems. He was detained by the Haqqani Network — the same group that held Canadian Joshua Boyle, his American wife Caitlan Coleman and their three children captive for five years. The Pakistani army rescued them last week.
Bergdahl later testified that jailing him would be “inappropriate,” because the sergeant was delusional and didn’t intend to desert. An Army Sanity Board evaluation in 2015 said Bergdahl had schizotypal personality disorder.
Prosecutors noted in their case that two soldiers and a Navy SEAL received serious wounds while searching for Bergdahl. Defense lawyers, though, said those injuries cannot be directly tied to Bergdahl.
Bergdahl, who’s from Hailey, Idaho, had been assigned to desk duty at a Texas Army base during his trial.
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