00:51 - Source: CNN
Bowe Bergdahl avoids prison time

Story highlights

Bergdahl pleaded guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy

He left his outpost in Afghanistan and was captured by the Taliban hours later

CNN —  

Soldiers who looked for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl after he deserted described Wednesday the grueling and dangerous search conditions, with one former Navy SEAL breaking down while detailing the firefight in which his K-9 partner was killed.

Bergdahl, 31, pleaded guilty last week to misbehavior before the enemy and desertion. The judge, Army Col. Jeffery R. Nance, said Bergdahl could face up to life in prison.

Bergdahl deserted from his outpost in Afghanistan in June 2009. Hours later, he was captured by the Taliban. He was eventually released in a controversial prisoner swap in exchange for five Guantanamo Bay detainees.

During a hearing last week, Bergdahl told the judge, Army Col. Jeffery R. Nance, that he was trying to reach the base from where he was dispatched.

Hatch was asked why he went on a mission to look for Bergdahl.

“He is an American,” Hatch said, adding, “He had a mom.”

Hatch wept when testifying about the death of Remco, his dog who appeared to have spotted the enemy. The dog was shot in the face and Hatch was hit in a knee.

“I thought I was dead,” Hatch recalled.

’Someone is going to get hurt’

Hatch, who walks with a heavy limp after 18 surgeries, said he had been concerned because there was little time to plan the hunt for Bergdahl, who the other soldiers knew had walked off his post.

“I said, ‘Hey, man, someone is going to get hurt trying to get this kid,” he told the judge deciding Bergdahl’s sentence.

Army Capt. John Billings also testified for the prosecution. Billings, who was Bergdahl’s platoon leader in Afghanistan, said the platoon searched for Bergdahl for 19 days. He described wearing a filthy uniform while looking for the then-private first class.

It was extremely hard on the troops, he said. They went days with no food or water and had no showers for weeks. Some of the men were sick.

“We don’t leave. It’s a motto, ‘Leave no man behind,’” alive or not, he said.

Cols. Clint Baker and John White also testified to the trying circumstances. One platoon was out for more than a month and had to have socks airdropped.

Bergdahl was a captive for five years.

’A critical problem’

Bergdahl told the judge last week that he was trying to reach the base from where he was dispatched.

Bergdahl said he wanted to report “a critical problem in my chain of command,” but did not specify what that problem was.

“I left my observation post on my own,” Bergdahl told the judge last week. “I understand leaving was against the law.”

Bergdahl told the judge that he made “somewhere between a dozen and 15 escape attempts” while held captive.

Bergdahl previously described the torture he endured, which included months chained to a bed and years either locked in a cage or chained on all fours.

Called a traitor and a hero

After five years, the Taliban released Bergdahl in a prisoner swap for five detainees at Guantanamo Bay. At the time, President Barack Obama cited a “sacred rule” in attempting to rescue American service members – no matter the circumstances surrounding their capture.

“We still get an American soldier back if he’s held in captivity. Period. Full stop. We don’t condition that,” Obama said at the time.

Since then, Bergdahl has been called both a traitor and a hero.

Celebrated at first, Bergdahl’s release raises more questions

In 2015, an Army Sanity Board evaluation said Bergdahl had schizotypal personality disorder. That information was included in the hundreds of pages of documents that Bergdahl’s defense team released on a website called The Bergdahl Docket.

01:28 - Source: CNN
Report: Bergdahl diagnosed with personality disorder

Former comrade: ‘He’s still a coward’

Retired Army Spc. Cody Full, a member of Bergdahl’s platoon in Afghanistan, called Bergdahl a “coward.”

He said the military has an open-door policy for service members to voice concerns about chains of command, so Bergdahl had no reason to desert.

“He was a coward nine years ago when he deserted, and I think he showed he’s still a coward,” Full said. “He refuses to take responsibility for his actions.”

Who is Bowe Bergdahl?

Those actions, Full said, jeopardized the safety of other service members.

“He literally put thousands and thousands of people’s lives at risk just so he could go and want to complain for whatever transgressions he thought happened or didn’t happen,” Full said.

But the Army general who led the investigation into Bergdahl’s actions in Afghanistan testified that jail time for him would be “inappropriate.”

Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dahl said he did not find any evidence to corroborate reporting that Bergdahl was sympathetic to the Taliban.”

And Terrence Russell, who debriefed Bergdahl while working for the Department of Defense’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, said the sergeant suffered “horrific” conditions while in Taliban captivity.

“An army of one, he had to fight the enemy alone for four years 11 months,” Russell testified in 2015. “You cannot overestimate how difficult that is.”

On Sunday, Eugene Fidell, Bergdahl’s civilian defense attorney, would not share with CNN whom the defense plans to call as a witness during the sentencing phase of the trial.

The prosecution indicated Wednesday that it will call its final witness on Monday.

Trump: Bergdahl ‘should be shot’

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump said Bergdahl “should be shot” for walking off his post.

“In the good old days, he would have been executed,” Trump said.

After Trump became President, Bergdahl’s lawyers argued the judge should dismiss the charges because of Trump’s comments, claiming Trump violated Bergdahl’s due-process rights and saying it would not be possible for Bergdahl to get a fair trial.

Bowe Bergdahl: I wanted to be Jason Bourne

But a military judge ruled against dismissing charges. Bergdahl later chose to be tried by a military judge rather than a jury.

In an exclusive interview obtained by ABC last year, Bergdahl said he didn’t think he would be able to get a fair trial after Trump’s comments that he should be shot.

“We may as well go back to kangaroo courts and lynch mobs. They got what they wanted,” Bergdahl said. “People who are to the point of saying, ‘Yeah, just shoot him’ – you can never convince those people to change their minds.”

CNN’s Kellie Keesee, Devon Sayers, Martin Savidge, Zachary Cohen and Matt Wotus contributed to this report.