A Fort Bragg military judge has sentenced Bowe Bergdahl to a dishonorable discharge, fined him $10,000 and reduced his rank to that of private from sergeant but did not sentence him to any time in prison.
The 31-year-old Army soldier pleaded guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy last month, calling his actions “inexcusable.”
Bergdahl left his post while on duty in Afghanistan’s Paktika province in 2009 and got lost, only to be captured by the Taliban two or three hours later. He spent the next five years enduring torture in captivity and attempted to escape 15 times.
Experts also testified during the trial that Bergdahl provided a “gold mine” of actionable intelligence for the U.S. military once he was recovered. His detailed descriptions of life in captivity led to greatly improved methods for other troops looking to evade and escape the enemy.
“I was captured by the enemy against my will,” Bergdahl told the hearing last month. “At the time I had no intention of causing search and recovery operations. ... It’s very inexcusable.”
In a statement released after the trial, Bergdahl expressed his gratitude to everyone who searched for him in 2009, “especially those who heroically sustained injuries.”
He and his defense team also leveled strong criticism against President Donald Trump, who repeatedly attacked Bergdahl while campaigning last year, which they said harmed his chances of a fair trial.
“President Trump’s unprincipled effort to stoke a lynch-mob atmosphere while seeking our Nation’s highest office has cast a dark cloud over the case,” the statement read. “Every American should be offended by his assault on the fair administration of justice and disdain for basic constitutional rights.”
Trump called Bergdahl a “traitor” at least 45 times while he was campaigning, often imagining gruesome death scenarios while he did so. During an Iowa campaign appearance in 2015, for instance, Trump said Bergdahl should be “thrown out of an airplane without a parachute.”
Trump responded to the sentencing in a tweet, calling it “a complete and total disgrace to our Country and to our Military.”
Bergdahl’s lawyers noted in the trial that he had previously undiagnosed mental illnesses before he enrolled in the Army, including schizotypal personality disorder and “severe” post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Hypothetically, he probably should not have been in the Army,” Capt. Nina Banks, a member of his defense team, said during closing arguments.
Former Navy SEAL James Hatch helped search for Bergdahl after he went missing in 2009. Though he and his military dog, Remco, came under enemy fire during the search, leaving him wounded and his dog dead, he said last week that he never doubted the mission.
“He is an American,” Hatch said. “He had a mom.”
Bergdahl was released in 2014 thanks to a prisoner swap organized by the Obama administration.
Bergdahl faced a maximum sentence of life in prison.
This story has been updated with a statement from Bergdahl and a tweet from Trump.