Army Colonel Jeffrey Nance, the presiding judge in the case of 31-year-old Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, plans to spend the rest of Thursday and Friday morning deliberating on Bergdahl’s sentencing, according to the Washington Post.
Impassioned closing arguments by the prosecution and the defense ended around noon Thursday, and an announcement of Bergdahl’s punishment is expected to come as early as Friday.
Bergdahl pleaded guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy last month, charges that stemmed from the sergeant’s abandonment of his post in Afghanistan in 2009 before he was held captive by the Taliban-aligned Haqqani network for five years. These charges carry the potential for life imprisonment as a punishment. According to the Washington Post, the military judge has wide discretion in sentencing, because Bergdahl pleaded guilty and did not strike a plea agreement with prosecutors. (RELATED: Bergdahl Pleads Guilty To Charges Of Desertion, Misbehavior)
The prosecution’s closing arguments Thursday morning drew attention to the wounds that fellow soldiers endured while looking for Bergdahl, recommending a prison sentence of 14 years along with a punitive discharge. According to the prosecution, Bergdahl has a history of faking mental disorders to escape responsibilities and obligations, and he alone is to blame for the consequences of his desertion. Although Bergdahl on Monday apologized to the troops injured searching for him, the prosecution contended that this in no way absolves him of responsibility.
“Sgt. Bergdahl does not have a monopoly on suffering as a result of his choices,” prosecutor Major Justin Oshana (U.S. Army) said Thursday morning, according to ABC News. “The difference is all the suffering stems from his choice.”
Bergdahl’s defense team focused instead on the abuse he suffered at the hands of the Taliban, harsh criticism by President Trump, and diagnosed mental disorders, arguing that these factors should mitigate the severity of Bergdahl’s punishment. The defense requested that Bergdahl receive a dishonorable discharge, but no prison time.
Capt. Nina Banks, one of Bergdahl’s defense attorneys, Thursday stated, “Justice is not rescuing Sgt. Bergdahl from his Taliban captors … only to place him in a cell.”
The most crucial arguments in favor of the defense came Wednesday, during the third day of witness testimony. The defense called to the stand forensic psychiatrist and professor Dr. Charles Morgan, who specializes in working with prisoners of war. The doctor testified that Sgt. Bergdahl exhibits symptoms “similar to schizophrenia” and suffers from “severe post-traumatic stress disorder.” Doctor Morgan also stated that Bergdahl considered castrating himself, believing that doing so would “purify him.”
Dr. Morgan diagnosed Sgt. Bergdahl as suffering from Schitzotypal Personality Disorder, linking this to Bergdahl’s choice to wander off of his Army post in 2009 prior to his capture by the Taliban. According to the DSM-5, this is often considered the most impairing of the Cluster A personality disorders, involving a “pervasive pattern of social and interpersonal deficits marked by acute discomfort with, and reduced capacity for, close relationships as well as by cognitive or perceptual distortions and eccentricities of behavior.”
According to ABC News, Dr. Morgan stated that Bergdahl “does not hear voices or have hallucinations, but experiences an ongoing commentary in his mind,” describing the sergeant as being odd, eccentric, and “preoccupied with a fantasy life.” Morgan testified that Bergdahl’s PTSD stemmed from an abusive childhood, and was exacerbated by his abuse at the hands of his captors. Additionally, Morgan stated that Bergdahl’s social phobia left him feeling detached and distant from those around him, and that although Bergdahl knew that walking off of his Army post would “get him in trouble,” his childish naïveté often led him to do things without fully comprehending the consequences.
On a stranger note, ABC News reports that a second witness, a medical doctor who runs a nonprofit animal rescue in San Antonio, testified on Wednesday that Bergdahl contacted her after he captured a feral cat using an elaborate trap. This witness portrayed Bergdahl as a kindhearted soul, albeit eccentric.
She told the judge that Bergdahl had been able to capture 24 feral cats in San Antonio and brought each of them to her sanctuary. His efforts were so impressive, she said, that she offered Bergdahl a job as a caretaker at the sanctuary — an offer that still stands, she added.
The woman said the cats, who would normally run away from humans, would surround Bergdahl. He’s “the cat whisperer,” she said.
Bergdahl’s best hope for leniency hinges on the testimony of Morgan, but there is reason to doubt the persuasiveness of the defense’s line of argument. As the prosecution repeatedly pointed out, Bergdahl told multiple people that he faked an anxiety attack to be released from duty after serving 26 days in the U.S. Coast Guard back in 2006. ABC News reports that when the prosecution asked Dr. Morgan to reconcile this behavior with his diagnosis, the doctor replied that Bergdahl was “too embarrassed” to admit that he had mental health problems, and that this embarrassment was what caused Bergdahl to claim that he had pretended to suffer from an anxiety disorder. The doctor maintained that Bergdahl’s mental health conditions are indeed “genuine.”
The prosecution’s Capt. Nicole Urlich argued forcefully that Bergdahl never suffered from anxiety attacks, and that Bergdahl is once again pretending to suffer from mental illnesses in an attempt to escape the consequences of his actions, WRAL reports. According to Urlich, the difference is that this time, Bergdahl is not merely attempting to avoid service obligations, but a lengthy stint in military prison.
The closing arguments in the Bergdahl case came just over one week after Judge Nance postponed the sentencing hearing in light of comments made by President Trump, who on the campaign trail derided Bergdahl as a “dirty, rotten traitor” who deserved to be shot. (RELATED: Military Judge Delays Bergdahl Sentencing Hearing After New Trump Comments)