U.S. Army Sergeant Bergdahl Pleads Guilty to Desertion

October 16, 2017 Last Updated: October 16, 2017

A military prosecutor says he has made no agreement to limit punishment for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in return for the soldier’s guilty pleas to charges that he endangered comrades by walking off his post in Afghanistan in 2009.

After Bergdahl entered guilty pleas to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, the prosecutor, Maj. Justin Oshana, told the judge that there’s no pretrial agreement between the two sides.

The judge, Army Col. Judge Jeffery R. Nance, spent Monday morning asking Bergdahl questions to make sure he understands what he’s pleading guilty to, and that his offenses carry a maximum punishment of life in prison. The judge asked him one last time if he wanted to plead guilty, and Bergdahl replied, “yes.”

Nance then told him that he accepted his pleas.

Sgt. Robert B. Bergdahl (C) is escorted into the court house after a lunch break during his hearing in the case of United States vs. Bergdahl in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, U.S., October 16, 2017. (Reuters/Jonathan Drake)
Sgt. Robert B. Bergdahl (C) is escorted into the court house after a lunch break during his hearing in the case of United States vs. Bergdahl in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, U.S., October 16, 2017. (Reuters/Jonathan Drake)

On Monday in court in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Bergdahl admitted leaving his post in Paktika province in June 2009. He said he got lost after 20 minutes, was captured two or three hours later, and that he never wanted to put anyone at risk.

“I was captured by the enemy against my will,” the 31-year-old Idaho native told the hearing. “At the time I had no intention of causing search and recovery operations. … It’s very inexcusable.”

The offense of misbehavior before the enemy carries a possible life sentence. Neither side has said whether Bergdahl has entered into a plea agreement with prosecutors.

Sgt. Robert B. Bergdahl (R) arrives at the court house for a hearing in the case of United States vs. Bergdahl in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Oct. 16, 2017. (Reuters/Jonathan Drake)
Sgt. Robert B. Bergdahl (R) arrives at the court house for a hearing in the case of United States vs. Bergdahl in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Oct. 16, 2017. (Reuters/Jonathan Drake)

President Barack Obama was criticized by Republicans for the 2014 Taliban prisoner swap that brought Bergdahl home, while President Donald Trump harshly criticized Bergdahl on the campaign trail.

Bergdahl, who was charged in 2015, remains on active duty in a clerical job at a base in San Antonio. He said in a podcast in 2015 that he left his post to draw attention to “leadership failure” in his unit.

The official search for him lasted 45 days, but the United States spent years trying to determine his whereabouts and bring him home.

The serious wounds to service members who searched for Bergdahl are still expected to play a role in his sentencing.

The guilty pleas allow Bergdahl to avoid a trial, but he still faces a sentencing hearing that’s expected to start on Oct. 23.

Bergdahl’s five years of captivity by the Taliban and its allies also will likely factor into what punishment he receives.

By Colleen Jenkins