For the first time in eight years, Bowe Bergdahl doesn’t face confinement or the threat of it, after a judge spared him from a prison sentence for endangering his comrades by walking off his post in Afghanistan, the Associated Press reports. The sentence, which includes a dishonorable discharge, was condemned by President Trump as a “complete and total disgrace.” Bergdahl’s lawyers take his case to a military appeals court to argue that Trump’s fiery views of the case merit further concessions and possibly dismissal of the entire case.
The punitive discharge means the case will automatically be appealed to a higher military court. A top commander will review the case and consider arguments for leniency, as is standard in Army legal cases. Bergdahl walked away from his post in Afghanistan, triggering a search that left some of his comrades severely wounded. He was captured and held by Taliban allies for five years, and his legal case began when he returned to the U.S. The judge gave no explanation of how he arrived at his decision, but he reviewed evidence that included Bergdahl’s captivity and the wounds suffered by troops who searched for him. President Obama traded Taliban prisoners to bring Bergdahl back in 2014, drawing Republican criticism. As a presidential candidate, Trump called for the soldier to face stiff punishment. He could have received up to life in prison.