FORT BRAGG, N.C., Oct 30 (Reuters) - President Donald Trump’s repeated criticism of U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl has not hurt the soldier’s chances of a fair sentence for deserting his post in Afghanistan in 2009 and endangering troops, a military judge ruled on Monday.
Army Colonel Jeffery Nance said he would consider the president’s remarks as a mitigating factor, however, raising the possibility of a lighter punishment for the soldier who faces up to life in prison and a dishonorable discharge.
During last year’s presidential campaign, Republican Trump called Bergdahl “a no-good traitor who should have been executed.” The defense said more recent remarks by the president showed his opinion of Bergdahl had not changed and had unlawfully influenced the proceedings.
Nance said in court at North Carolina’s Fort Bragg, where Bergdahl’s sentencing hearing is underway, that Trump’s comments during the campaign were “conclusory, condemning and damning of the accused.”
But the judge said he was not influenced by the statements or the president’s seeming renewal of them two weeks ago on the same day Bergdahl pleaded guilty.
“I am completely unaffected by any comments President Trump has made about Sergeant Bergdahl,” Nance said.
Bergdahl, 31, pleaded guilty on Oct. 16 to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. The Idaho native was captured by the Taliban after walking off his combat outpost in Paktika province in June 2009, and spent the subsequent five years in captivity suffering torture, abuse and neglect.
The soldier, released in a 2014 Taliban prisoner swap brokered by the Democratic Obama administration, said he had planned to go to a nearby base to report “critical problems” in his chain of command.
During the past week, U.S. service members testifying for the prosecution described the risks and hardships they faced searching for Bergdahl. Several service members were wounded.
Master Sergeant Mark Allen was the most critically hurt, suffering a debilitating brain injury that left him unable to speak after being shot in the head during a July 2009 mission to seek intelligence on Bergdahl.
His wife, Shannon Allen, testifying as the prosecution’s final witness, said the father of two from Loganville, Georgia, spent more than two years in military hospitals and can never be left alone due to seizures.
“Instead of being his wife, I’m his caregiver,” she said on Monday. “Which doesn’t mean I love him any less, but it’s a very different dynamic. We can’t even hold hands anymore without me prying open his hand and putting mine in.”
(Reporting by Greg Lacour; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Bernadette Baum)