The officer who led the investigation into U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s disappearance and capture in Afghanistan six years ago said he doesn't think Bergdahl should go to prison.
Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dahl testified Friday at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, that Bergdahl said he walked away from his post as part of a plan to spark a search and get the attention of a general so he could express his concerns about his unit's leadership.
Dahl told a packed courtroom that Bergdahl felt the problems were so severe that they put his platoon in danger — but the officer also said that Bergdahl's perceptions were "completely off the mark."
Dahl said Bergdahl had an elaborate plan to head from his post to the forward operating base roughly 19 miles away, expecting to arrive while a search was underway and to create a "PR event" that might get a general to listen to him.
"He felt it was his duty to intervene," said Dahl, who described Bergdahl as having few friends but seeming motivated to help others.
He concluded his statements by saying he doesn't think Bergdahl should serve time in jail. Bergdahl didn’t testify in his own defense.
His lead attorney, Eugene Fidell, repeated his call for an extensive interview Bergdahl gave military investigators last year to be released. He said it would help tell Bergdahl's side of the story and counteract some of the negative publicity he has faced since the prisoner exchange.
Fidell said that Bergdahl had never intended to avoid his duty and that his case should be treated like a one-day AWOL stint, which he said carries a penalty of 30 days' confinement.
Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban after leaving his post on June 30, 2009, and held until last year, when he was exchanged for five Taliban commanders being held at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Soon after his return to the U.S., the U.S. Army launched an investigation into his disappearance. Military prosecutors charged Bergdahl in March with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.
His Article 32 hearing, which concluded Friday, will help determine whether he should face a court-martial. His commanding officers in Afghanistan testified Thursday about the grueling 45-day search for Bergdahl, saying it put other soldiers in danger.
Terrence Russell, with a military agency that works with soldiers and others who have been held captive and who debriefed Bergdahl, testified that Bergdahl was subjected to worse conditions than any American prisoner of war since the Vietnam War and was "skin over bones" near the end of his captivity.
Bergdahl tried to resist and attempted to escape on multiple occasions, including one attempt in which he managed to elude recapture for 8 1/2 days, Russell said.
"They don't know what the facts are. Nobody knows Sgt. Bergdahl's story. I hope someday the world gets to understand how difficult Sgt. Bergdahl had it," he said.
Curtis Aberle, a family nurse practitioner at Fort Sam Houston who has been treating Bergdahl, said Bergdahl suffered extensive injuries during his time as a prisoner that have made him unfit to remain in the military. Aberle said Bergdahl also suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome.
If Bergdahl is tried and convicted of the misbehavior before the enemy charge, he could get life in prison. He also could be dishonorably discharged, reduced in rank and made to forfeit all pay if he's convicted.
The officer who presided over the hearing will forward his recommendations to Gen. Robert Abrams, the commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command. Abrams will decide whether the case should be referred to a court-martial or be resolved in another manner.
The Associated Press