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Closing Arguments Wrap Up In Bowe Bergdahl's Sentencing

U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is escorted into the Ft. Bragg military courthouse for the sentencing proceedings on Thursday in Ft. Bragg, N.C.
Sara D. Davis
Getty Images
U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is escorted into the Ft. Bragg military courthouse for the sentencing proceedings on Thursday in Ft. Bragg, N.C.

Defense lawyers and prosecutors made their closing arguments at the sentencing of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, with prosecutors seeking 14 years in prison and defense lawyers asking for no prison time and a dishonorable or bad conduct discharge.

During the last two weeks of the sentencing hearing at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, the military court has heard about three soldiers who were wounded while searching for Bergdahl after he walked off his military post in Afghanistan in 2009.

The court has also heard Bergdahl himself apologize for the pain that he caused, and describe the torture he endured for five years in Taliban custody. Bergdahl has pleaded guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.

Today, defense lawyer Capt. Nina Banks argued that the suffering Bergdahl endured with the Taliban was punishment enough. She said that he was chained to a metal bed frame for three months, and then was held in a metal cage for almost four years. He had diarrhea most of the time and had to use his own urine to wash himself, she said.

Banks said that Bergdahl is a different man than he was eight years ago, when he walked off the post. At that time he wasn't aware that he suffered from multiple mental illnesses that impacted his thought processes, she said, such as schizotypal personality disorder.

Mental health issues, Banks said, should have disqualified him from military service so he shouldn't have been there to begin with. Now, she said, he understands that he's got these illnesses, he understands what he did and he's deeply, deeply sorrowful for the harm he caused.

Bergdahl was simply trying to help, she said. Bergdahl has stated that he disagreed with the way his operation was being conducted, and walked off his post hoping to trigger a search, which would allow him to bring his concerns to high-ranking officers.

"Justice is not rescuing Sgt. Bergdahl from his Taliban captors, in the cage where he was for years, only to place him in a cell," Banks told the court.

A key point of argument for both the defense and the prosecution is how much responsibility Bergdahl bears for the injuries that service members sustained while searching for him. Defense lawyers argue that the Taliban caused those injuries and Bergdahl did not intend to harm anyone. And the evidence, they say, doesn't show malice and disregard.

On the other hand, prosecutors say that none of the people would be hurt if it was not for Bergdahl's actions.

Maj. Justin Oshana, a prosecutor, compared the situation to a car crash caused by drunk driving to argue against leniency because of what Bergdahl has already suffered. If a drunk driver breaks his leg during a crash that kills multiple pedestrians, he argued, the fact that the driver was hurt shouldn't mean a reduced sentence.

Bergdahl does not have a monopoly on suffering, Oshana said. But all of the suffering stems from his choice.

Ultimately, Oshana argued that this was not a mistake, as Bergdahl suggests. It was a crime that should result in significant jail time. Bergdahl planned to leave the post in order to get his message out, and so he did this intentionally, the prosecutor said.

The judge, Col. Jeffery Nance, has started deliberating on Bergdahl's sentence.

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Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.
Frank Morris has supervised the reporters in KCUR's newsroom since 1999. In addition to his managerial duties, Morris files regularly with National Public Radio. He’s covered everything from tornadoes to tax law for the network, in stories spanning eight states. His work has won dozens of awards, including four national Public Radio News Directors awards (PRNDIs) and several regional Edward R. Murrow awards. In 2012 he was honored to be named "Journalist of the Year" by the Heart of America Press Club.