Trump Calls No Jail Time for Bergdahl 'Complete and Total Disgrace'
Updated at 6:26 p.m. Eastern
President Donald Trump denounced Friday the decision to spare Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl jail time as a "complete and total disgrace."
"The decision on Sergeant Bergdahl is a complete and total disgrace to our Country and to our Military," Trump said in a Tweet from Air Force One en route to Hawaii at the start of an Asian trip that will take him to China, Japan and South Korea.
Earlier Friday, Army Col. Jeffery R. Nance, the military judge at Bergdahl's court-martial at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, sentenced the 31-year-old defendant to a dishonorable discharge, a reduction in rank to E-1 and a monthly reduction in pay of $1,000 for the next 10 months.
Nance made no other comments in imposing the sentence but earlier this week said in court that he was taking into consideration Trump's previous comments on the case in deciding on punishment.
"I will consider the president's comments as mitigation evidence as I arrive at an appropriate sentence," he said.
As a candidate last year, Trump called Bergdahl a "dirty rotten traitor" and said he should be executed for leaving his post in Afghanistan.
Last month, Trump did not back off his previous remarks. "I think people have heard my comments in the past," he said.
The sentence will be reviewed by Army Gen. Robert B. Abrams, the convening authority in the case and commander of U.S. Forces Command. Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Abrams can reduce the sentence or approve it but cannot increase it.
If the final sentence still includes a dishonorable discharge, it will then automatically be reviewed by the United States Army Court of Criminal Appeals.
One of the soldiers who was wounded while searching for Bergdahl bitterly criticized the sentence that spared him jail time.
Asked by phone about his reaction to Bergdahl's sentence, former Army Sgt. Jonathan Morita, of California, told ABC News, "I've had better days.
"The dishonorable discharge means he can't receive any of these services like I can" from the Department of Veterans Affairs, Morita said. "He'll pay the fine like people get fined for illegal fishing. OK, whoop-de-doo."
Morita said Bergdahl deserved to spend time in jail. "That's the one that's completely unacceptable," he said. "It should have maybe not been the life sentence, but it should have been something."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he was "incredibly disappointed" by the sentence.
Graham, who served as an Air Force lawyer for more than 30 years, said, "This sentence in my view falls short of the gravity of the offense."
During the sentencing proceedings, Army Capt. Nina Banks, one of Bergdahl's military defense lawyers, argued for leniency, citing his five years in captivity with insurgents believed to be part of the Haqqani network affiliated with the Taliban.
"Sergeant Bergdahl has been punished enough," Banks told the military judge, and Eugene Fidell, Bergdahl's chief civilian lawyer, echoed her argument at a news conference after the sentence was announced.
"As everyone knows, he was a captive of the Taliban for nearly five years, and three more years have elapsed while the legal process unfolded,' Fidell said. "He has lost nearly a decade of his life."
Fidell also charged that Trump's comments on Bergdahl created a "lynch mob atmosphere" around the case. "Every American should be offended by his assault on the fair administration of justice and disdain for basic constitutional rights," he said.
Fidell said that the dishonorable discharge, which would deprive Bergdahl for life of VA benefits, will be appealed.
In pleading guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, which could have resulted in a life sentence, "I'm admitting I made a horrible mistake," Bergdahl told the court.
The lead prosecutor, Army Maj. Justin Oshana, cited the troops who were wounded while searching for Bergdahl.
"It wasn't a mistake," Oshana said of Bergdahl's decision to walk off his base. "It was a crime."
Despite the dishonorable discharge sentence, the defense team indicated they will still seek the "Prisoner of War" medal for Bergdahl. The award was authorized by Congress and signed into law in 1985 by President Ronald Reagan.
The award generally goes to those "taken prisoner and held captive while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.
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