Some Republican lawmakers are calling for the U.S. Department of Justice to retry Bowe Bergdahl, a former Army soldier who previously pleaded guilty to desertion after being held captive by the Taliban.
Last Wednesday, Judge Reggie Walton of the DC District Court vacated Bergdahl’s entire court-martial, allowing him to go free, reported Military.com.
“In consultation with the Department of Justice, we urge you to examine the options to order a new trial as expeditiously as possible,” wrote several Republican members of Congress in a letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ), the New York Post reported.
Rep. Michael Waltz (R-FL), a former Green Beret and one of the letter’s signatories, told NYP:
“I was a leader in the search for Bowe Bergdahl after he deserted his post and we subsequently lost men looking for him. Not only did we lose brave service members, but then-President Obama also traded five terrorists in exchange for his release.”
The recent vacation of his court-martial stemmed from the Army judge who initially presided over Bergdahl’s case — Jeffrey Nance. Nance had applied for a job with the Trump administration, using a ruling denying a motion by Bergdahl as a writing sample in his job application, The New York Times reported.
Former President Donald Trump had previously called Bergdahl “a dirty rotten traitor” and called for his execution. Bergdahl’s legal team argued that Trump’s comments and those of the late John McCain had prejudiced the army judge by exerting “unlawful command influence” and that Nance failed to disclose a basis for his disqualification, namely his application to become an immigration judge.
McCain had been critical of Bergdahl and the cost of winning his release. Judge Walton considered McCain’s statements in his ruling, noting that McCain had said that “‘if it comes out that [Bergdahl] has no punishment, we’re going to have to have a hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee,’ adding that the plaintiff … ‘is clearly a deserter.'”
Judge Walton ultimately based his order to vacate on Nance not disclosing a possible “conflict of interest.”
“Having concluded that this case presents a unique situation where the military judge might be inclined to appeal to the president’s expressed interest in the plaintiff’s conviction and punishment when applying for the immigration judge position, or at least that being the perception a reasonable member of the public would have, the Court concludes that the other circumstances of this case further ‘undermine [the judge’s ] apparent neutrality,'” Walton said in his ruling.
Bergdahl’s saga began in 2009 when he left his post without authorization, later claiming he did it to expose problems in his unit, according to Military.com. He was captured by the Taliban and was a prisoner for five years.
The military’s search for him resulted in injuries to several soldiers, one of whom was shot through the head. That soldier, Master Sgt. Mark Allen, lost the ability to walk and talk, requiring constant care until he died in 2019, per NYT.
The Obama administration secured Bergdahl’s release in 2014 in exchange for sending five senior Taliban prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay to Qatar.
Initially feted as a hero, Bergdahl’s story quickly turned ugly. Questions arose about the circumstances of Bergdahl’s capture. Some former soldiers who served with Bergdahl accused him of desertion, claiming he had wanted to join the Taliban.
Some of them claimed that several Americans had died during the manhunt. Though that turned out not to be the case, the fact that soldiers were injured — some severely — in the search for Bergdahl further angered critics of the deal that brought Bergdahl back, NYT reported.
“The families of the fallen deserve justice and we can’t allow a legal technicality to wipe the record clean for a traitor who pleaded guilty to desertion. We are demanding the Pentagon appeal this decision and retry the case,” Waltz told NYP.