U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl on Friday was spared prison time for endangering fellow troops when he deserted his post in Afghanistan in 2009, but a military judge ordered he should be dishonorably discharged from the service.
Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban and spent five years under brutal captivity by the insurgent group. He had faced up to life in prison after pleading guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.
The 31-year-old Idaho native trembled in a military courtroom at Fort Bragg in North Carolina as he waited to hear his punishment.
Prosecutors had asked Nance to send Bergdahl to prison for 14 years for the hardships and injuries endured by service members who searched for the soldier after he left his combat outpost in Paktika province in June 2009 without permission.
“This has been a terrible ordeal,” Eugene Fidell, one of Bergdahl’s lawyers, said after the hearing. “He’s certainly glad this is over.”
A dishonorable discharge, given for the most serious offenses, typically means a loss of all veteran and military benefits.
Defense attorneys argued at Bergdahl’s sentencing hearing that he was a young, hardworking soldier who did not understand the full consequences of his actions when he deserted.
Prosecutors, however, said Bergdahl knew his disappearance would trigger alarm in the war zone.
Prosecutors acknowledged that Bergdahl suffered during his years as a prisoner of the Taliban, but argued that did not diminish the pain of fellow service members who were injured during the futile hunt for him.