WASHINGTON — U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the former prisoner of war who’s accused of endangering comrades by walking off his post in Afghanistan, is asking President Barack Obama to pardon him before leaving office.
White House and Justice Department officials said Saturday that Bergdahl had submitted copies of the clemency request seeking leniency. If granted by Obama, it would allow Bergdahl to avert a military trial scheduled for April where he faces charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. The misbehavior charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.
If the pardon isn’t granted, Bergdahl’s defense team said it will expand its legal strategy to the new administration by filing a motion arguing President-elect Donald Trump violated his due process rights with scathing public comments about the case.
Bergdahl, of Hailey, Idaho, walked off his post in Afghanistan in 2009 and was held captive by the Taliban and its allies for five years.
The Obama administration’s decision in May 2014 to exchange him for five Taliban prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prompted criticism that included some Republicans accusing Obama of jeopardizing nation’s safety. Some lawmakers were outraged that the administration didn’t give Congress a 30-day notice about transferring the detainees, as required by law.
Throughout his presidential campaign, Trump was Bergdahl’s most vocal critic, saying repeatedly the soldier is a traitor who would have been executed in the “old days.”
During a July speech in Indiana, Trump lamented that Bergdahl could wind up with a light punishment.
“Remember the old days? A deserter, what happened?” he said before pantomiming pulling a trigger and adding: “Bang.”
Bergdahl’s lead defense lawyer, Eugene Fidell, declined to comment Saturday regarding the request for a pardon.
But Fidell said he plans to file a motion seeking dismissal of the charges against Bergdahl shortly after the January inauguration, arguing Trump violated Bergdahl’s constitutional due-process rights.