Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will still have to face a court-martial over leaving his post in Afghanistan in 2009, a step he says he took to draw attention to alleged problems within the military.
Bergdahl, who grew up in Hailey, and his legal team in late 2016 asked former President Barack Obama for a pre-emptive pardon of his charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.
Tuesday and Thursday this week, Obama granted commutations and pardons to about 600 people. Bergdahl wasn’t on the list.
Bergdahl attorney Eugene Fidell later Friday confirmed the president’s denial to the Washington Post: “We had hoped that (Obama) would grant a pardon. He didn’t.”
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President Donald Trump has referred to Bergdahl as “a no-good traitor who should have been executed,” pantomiming a firing squad at many campaign appearances. A pardon from Obama would have resolved Bergdahl’s situation before Trump took office Friday.
Bergdahl’s attorneys on Friday asked a military judge to dismiss his charges, arguing Trump’s comments have violated his due process rights and amount to unlawful command influence, the Associated Press reports. The defense team also posted a half-hour video on YouTube of examples of Trump’s statements about Bergdahl.
There is precedent for a military judge to decide a president's comments have tainted a prosecution, the AP reports. In 2013, a Navy judge cited comments by then-President Barack Obama when he said two defendants in sexual assault cases couldn't be punitively discharged if they were found guilty because of Obama's public comments about cracking down on sexual assault.
Bergdahl, of course, was captured by the Taliban shortly after leaving his base and was held for five years by the Taliban-allied Haqqani network in Pakistan. He later claimed he was trying to bring attention to problems in his unit’s immediate leadership. An Army review board in 2015 diagnosed him with schizotypal personality disorder; people diagnosed with that often have odd beliefs about how the world works.
“They’re kind of suspicious about the world and oftentimes see themselves as being persecuted by others or the government or the world,” said Kyle Davis, a psychologist with St. Luke’s Boise Medical Center, speaking in general about the disorder.
Bergdahl had previously washed out of the U.S. Coast Guard, and was allowed into the Army at a time when that military branch was granting a number of waivers for new recruits to help with a need for personnel in Afghanistan.
While Bergdahl made escape attempts and was eventually locked in a metal cage, Hailey residents put up yellow ribbons and started annual events calling for his release.
Claims started to spread online and in the media that six soldiers in Bergdahl’s unit died searching for him in August and September 2009. But while soldiers were hurt during the search, those deaths were apparently unrelated, according to investigation reports acquired by This American Life’s “Serial” podcast.
He was traded back to the U.S. in 2014 as part of a controversial prisoner swap, similar to another trade that rescued a Boise pastor from Iranian prison early last year. Fox News reported that Bergdahl’s letter requesting a pardon also thanked Obama for arranging the swap.
Since his May 2014 return to the U.S., Bergdahl has been assigned to Fort Sam Houston, awaiting his military trial this spring at Fort Bragg, N.C. He could face up to life in prison. He has not returned to Hailey, at least that anyone has publicly confirmed.
During his wait, Bergdahl began talking to film producer Mark Boal, who eventually recorded about 25 hours of interviews with Bergdahl. Boal gave those interviews to “Serial,” and the podcast’s second season in early 2016 gave Americans their first chance to hear directly from Bergdahl about his capture and release.