A military court heard an appeal to dismiss Army Pvt. Bowe Bergdahl’s convictions on Thursday.
According to Stars and Stripes, Bergdahl’s attorney, Eugene Fidell, claims that President Donald Trump had “undue command influence” over the process.
“At play in this appeal is Bergdahl’s medical benefits and his back pay during five years of captivity,” said Michael Ames, the co-author of “American Cipher: Bowe Bergdahl and the U.S. Tragedy in Afghanistan.”
Bergdahl pleaded guilty to desertion and was convicted of misbehavior before the enemy in 2017, but was given no jail time.
“With that verdict, Bergdahl lost all of his benefits,” Ames said.
Stars and Strips reported on July 1 that the Army Court for Criminal Appeals is considering whether Bergdahl’s convictions should be dismissed over “repeated, disparaging comments” issued by Trump while on the campaign trail, after he took office and since Bergdahl was sentenced.
Bergdahl, who grew up in Blaine County, was captured by the Taliban in 2009 while on duty in Afghanistan. He was released in 2014 in a controversial prisoner exchange for five former Taliban commanders held at the U.S. Detention Center at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba since 2001.
Bergdahl admitted leaving his post voluntarily. He said his goal was to draw attention to what he described as problems in the command structure at his base. He was captured, tortured and held captive for five years.
Trump called Bergdahl a “traitor” who deserved to be executed. A welcome-home party for Bergdahl in Hailey was cancelled in 2017 after organizers received death threats.
Prosecutors sought 14 years imprisonment for Bergdahl, but Army Col. Jeffery R. Nance instead sentenced him to a dishonorable discharge, forfeit of $10,000 in pay and a reduction in rank from sergeant to E-1 private.
Before sentencing Bergdahl, Nance described Trump’s comments about the soldier as “conclusory, condemning and disparaging,” but he said they ultimately did not influence his decisions in the case.
“He did rule that he would consider the comments as mitigating evidence in Bergdahl’s sentence, but it remains unclear how much he weighed them in his final decision,” Stars and Stripes reported.
The online magazine reported that the three appellate judges now considering Bergdahl’s case must decide whether “the president can unlawfully influence … a court-martial the president did not personally convene” and if Bergdahl’s lawyers have presented evidence of unlawful influence.
“They also must consider whether prosecutors had proven ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ that any perception of unlawful command influence in the case had not impacted the public’s confidence in the military justice system or cast doubts about Bergdahl’s ability to receive a fair outcome … ,” Stars and Stripes reported.
Ames, who was a reporter at the Mountain Express, will give a talk about “American Cipher” at The Community Library in Ketchum on Thursday, July 25.