Prosecutors begin presenting case for Bergdahl court martial
Prosecutors at the hearing to determine of army deserter Beau Bergdahl should be court martialed have begun making the case that the former prisoner of war should be tried for desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. The latter charge could carry a life sentence.
The case against Bergdahl included testimony from his former platoon commander.
After he disappeared, Kurz said, "for 45 days, the only operations in Paktika province was to find the accused."
Bergdahl, 29, sat calmly during the proceeding at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas, flanked by his attorney, Eugene Fidell, and two Army defense lawyers. There has been no announcement of whether he will testify. He is charged with desertion with intent to shirk hazardous or important duty, which carries a maximum penalty of five years, and misbehavior before the enemy, which carries a possible life sentence.
Bergdahl stared straight ahead through most of the six-hour hearing, blinking repeatedly and rarely speaking with his lawyers. His parents were not in attendance.
According to testimony Thursday from his former platoon commander, Capt. John Billings, Bergdahl was a stellar soldier before he disappeared in the early morning hours of June 30, 2009. "A great soldier from all accounts," he testified. "Always did everything he was asked to do. Never complained. No issues."
His disappearance, Billings said, came as a shock that quickly became a burden. The operations tempo increased significantly, he said, with less planning and fewer safeguards, all seeking Bergdahl, who had been captured by the Taliban-associated Haqqani network. He was held for five years until a controversial Obama administration prisoner exchange freed him.
Soon after the disappearance, Billings said he took a nine-man foot patrol beyond the wire for 19 days to look for Bergdahl in searing heat.
Defense lawyer Lt. Col. Franklin Rosenblatt told Billings that many people believed the search for Bergdahl resulted in the deaths of six or seven soldiers and asked whether that were true.
"None of my guys died looking for Sgt. Bergdahl," Billings said.
I really hope the defense doesn't use the fact that no one died looking for the deserter as part of their case. Rather, it appears they are going to try and convience the court that Bergdahl was crazy and that he shouldn't be punished for suffering from a mental illness.
That's really the only defense he has for the indefensible - not guilty by reason of insanity. If the judges buy that argument, Bergdahl won't even be court martialed for his actions. That would be a tragedy and a slap in the face to every soldier who served in that war.
It's not likely to come up at the hearing, but hanging over the proceedings is the knowledge that we exchanged 5 lethal terrorists for this loser and President Obama is still insisting it was a great deal.
Perhaps we should get a second opinion on that from Bergdahl's comrades who spent 19 days looking for him.