FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) – The wounds and hardships soldiers suffered during their fruitless search for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was captured by the Taliban after walking off his post in Afghanistan, are being described in painful detail at his sentencing hearing.
Bergdahl, who suffered five years as an enemy captive after abandoning his remote post in 2009, pleaded guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy last week and faces a maximum of life in prison. Prosecutors made no deal, so the judge has wide leeway to determine punishment.
The Army judge, Col. Jeffery R. Nance, said Wednesday that he’s still considering a defense motion to dismiss the entire case over the unfair command influence they say is reflected in comments Donald Trump made as a candidate and reaffirmed as president, that Bergdahl should be put before a firing squad or thrown from a plane without a parachute.
More testimony on dangerous search missions is expected Thursday after a Navy SEAL described his career-ending leg wound on Wednesday.
Retired Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer James Hatch said his team’s helicopters came under fire as they landed near the Pakistan border, following information on Bergdahl’s possible whereabouts. He said the mission, led in the days after Bergdahl disappeared was hastily planned, and their only objective was finding the soldier.
A military dog leading them through a field located two enemy fighters that the team had seen at a distance. Hatch said the fighters sprayed AK-47 bullets at them, killing the dog. He was hit in the leg.
“I screamed a lot. It hurt really bad … I thought I was dead,” said Hatch, who entered the courtroom with a limp and a service dog.
Hatch said he believes he would have died if a comrade hadn’t quickly applied a tourniquet. Hatch has subsequently had 18 surgeries.
A soldier whose hand was shattered by a rocket-propelled grenade during a separate search for Bergdahl could testify Thursday. Another soldier suffered a traumatic brain injury on that mission.
The 31-year-old soldier from Hailey, Idaho, has said he was caged by his captors, kept in darkness and beaten, and tried to escape more than a dozen times before President Barack Obama brought him home in 2014 in a swap for five Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
Nance said Monday that he would be fair and hasn’t been influenced by Trump, but that he does have concerns that the president’s comments are affecting public perceptions about the case and its outcome. Nance ruled in February that comments Trump made as a civilian candidate didn’t constitute unlawful command influence. The defense says Trump revived his campaign comments the day of Bergdahl’s plea hearing, by saying he thinks people are aware of what he said before.