Bergdahl’s appeal over Trump’s comments rejected by judges

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl leaves the Fort Bragg courtroom facility after a sentencing hearing on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017.


By CAITLIN M. KENNEY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 19, 2019

WASHINGTON — A military court has rejected an appeal by former Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl to dismiss his convictions due to comments by President Donald Trump that included calling the soldier a traitor who should be shot.

Bergdahl’s lawyers argued to the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals that the soldier was denied a fair court-martial because of Trump’s “unlawful command influence.”

The three-judge panel did not agree.

“Although there was some evidence of unlawful command influence adduced at trial and in the post-trial process, the government met its burden to demonstrate that an objective disinterested observer would not harbor a significant doubt as to the fairness of the proceedings,” Judge and Army Col. Paula Schasberger wrote in the panel’s appeal decision issued Tuesday. Army Col. Gary Saladino, another judge on the panel, concurred.

The panel in a 2-1 ruling concluded the military judge for the court-martial, Army Col. Jeffery R. Nance, was correct in his findings.

Eugene Fidell, Bergdahl’s lead attorney, said Friday that he will seek another appeal, this time from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.

Bergdahl walked off his post in Paktika province in Afghanistan in 2009 and became a captive of the Taliban until the United States exchanged five Taliban detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay for him in 2014.

In 2017, Bergdahl pleaded guilty to charges that he deserted his post in Afghanistan and endangered his fellow troops. He was sentenced to forfeit $10,000 in pay, a reduction in rank to E-1 private and a dishonorable discharge.

Trump routinely derided Bergdahl during his election campaign as a “dirty, rotten traitor” who “should be shot” or returned to the Taliban in front of cheering crowds. Trump also made more comments after Bergdahl’s sentencing.

“The decision on Sgt. Bergdahl is a complete and total disgrace to our country and to our military,” Trump tweeted Nov. 3, 2017.

The president again took to Twitter on April 26, calling Bergdahl “a traitor” as he denied media reports that his administration paid money to North Korea to release American Otto Warmbier, who had been imprisoned by Pyongyang and died shortly after he was released to the United States in June 2017.

The third judge on the panel, Army Lt. Col. James Ewing, agreed in part with the majority opinion of the other judges, but argued the post-trial action by the trial’s convening authority, Gen. Robert Abrams, could be perceived as influenced by Trump.

The convening authority is the top official who oversees court-martial proceedings and must review and approve the judge’s findings.

Stars and Stripes staff writer Corey Dickstein contributed to this report.

Twitter: @caitlinmkenney