Bowe Bergdahl's Attorney Calls Fair Trial Impossible Under Trump
(CN) – President Donald Trump’s repeated condemnation of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl as a “dirty, rotten traitor” makes it impossible for the soldier to receive a fair trial on desertion and misbehavior charges, Bergdahl’s attorney told his Army court on Friday.
In a motion to dismiss filed shortly after Trump was sworn in as president, the attorneys argued that Trump violated Bergdahl’s due process rights and military law against unlawful command influence.
Bergdahl’s attorneys included a 28-minute video exhibit featuring Trump’s numerous references to Bergdahl as a “traitor,” “a no-good traitor,” and “a dirty, rotten traitor.”
The lengthy filing in the General Court Martial in the Second Judicial Circuit, U.S. Army Trial Judiciary at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, includes excerpts from 64 speeches across the nations and broadcasts in which Trump condemned Bergdahl.
Trump used the word “traitor” to describe Bergdahl at least 156 times, according to the motion, and also called him a “son of a bitch” and said he should be killed, and that he, Trump, would be willing to do it himself.
Trump turned up the heat after President Barack Obama agreed in 2014 to swap five detainees at Guantanamo Bay for Bergdahl.
“President Trump transformed his rallies into a televised traveling lynch mob. Justice cannot be done and public confidence in military justice cannot be maintained under these circumstances,” the motion to dismiss says.
Bergdahl, 30, sought a pardon from Obama but the White House did not respond to the request. Three days before the end of his term, Obama pardoned 64 people and commuted 209 sentences, including the 35-year sentence of Wikileaks source Chelsea Manning.
Manning is to be released on May 17.
Bergdahl faces an April court-martial at Fort Bragg on charges that he endangered his comrades by walking away from his post in Afghanistan in 2009. He could spend the rest of his life in military prison if found guilty of the misbehavior charge.
But Bergdahl’s legal team says that Trump has publicly predetermined Bergdahl’s guilt, advocated punishments that are not only unauthorized but cruel and unusual, opposed leniency, and dismissed evidence of psychological issues that would qualify at least as a matter in mitigation.
They also point out that Trump promised to “review the case” once he gets into office.
“The circumstances strongly support Sgt. Bergdahl’s belief that he cannot obtain a fair trial,” the motion states.
Bergdahl, of Hailey, Idaho, was captured within hours of disappearing into the enemy-infested desert and held prisoner for five years in conditions that have left him permanently injured.
A military expert who debriefed Bergdahl testified at a pretrial hearing that the soldier’s five years of captivity with the Taliban were the worst a U.S. prisoner of war has suffered in 60 years. He endured endless beatings which became worse after failed escape attempts, suffered through years of uncontrollable diarrhea and spent three years confined in a 7-foot metal cage.
In a rare interview last year, Bergdahl said that he tried to run the 20 miles from his platoon’s base, Observation Post Mest, to a higher headquarters, hoping his absence would trigger enough attention to allow him to air his grievances about leadership problems.
He has remained publicly silent since then.
At least two high-ranking military officials with deep knowledge of the case appear to be at odds with Trump’s position.
Lt. Col. Mark A. Visger, the hearing officer who presided over Bergdahl’s pretrial hearing in 2015, recommended that Bergdahl’s case be referred to a special court-martial, and that he receive no jail time.
The Army’s lead investigator, Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dahl, testified that sending Bergdahl to prison “would be inappropriate” and that Bergdahl was not a Taliban sympathizer.
Bergdahl is stationed at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, where he works a desk job.