Bergdahl pleaded guilty in 2017 to desertion and was dishonorably discharged from the Army but was sparred prison time
By Louis Casiano
A former U.S. Army soldier who pleaded guilty to desertion after leaving his post while deployed in Afghanistan and was subsequently captured and tortured by the Taliban had his court-martial conviction vacated Tuesday.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton in Washington D.C. said that military judge Jeffrey Nance, who presided over the court-martial of Bowe Bergdahl, failed to disclose that he had applied to the executive branch for a job as an immigration judge, creating a potential conflict of interest.
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Walton noted that former President Trump criticized Bergdahl during the 2016 presidential campaign. Bergdahl’s lawyers argued that the criticism placed command influence on Nance.
Walton rejected that argument, but he said a reasonable person could question the judge’s impartiality under the circumstances. It was not clear if the ruling could possibly result in the reinstatement of rank or change of status for Bargdahl’s dishonorable discharge.
“This case presents a unique situation where the military judge might be inclined to appeal to the president’s expressed interest in the plaintiff’s conviction and punishment when applying for the immigration judge position,” Walton wrote.
Bergdahl, from Hailey, Idaho, pleaded guilty in 2017 to desertion. He was spared prison time but was dishonorably discharged from the military and had his rank reduced to private, as well as the forfeiture of $10,000 in pay.
In 2009, he walked away from his post in Afghanistan and was captured by the Taliban and held for five years. Some of his fellow soldiers were injured trying to find him.
In 2014, then-President Barack Obama brought Bergdahl home in a controversial prison exchange for five Taliban prisoners, a deal that was roundly criticized by Republicans.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.