Lawyers for alleged deserter Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl want to even the playing field by hiring a second forensic psychiatrist, one more comparable to the renowned doctor hired by the government earlier this year as consultant on the soldier's mental capacity at the time of his captivity.
Lawyers for Bergdahl filed a motion last week asking Col. Jeffery Nance, the military judge overseeing Bergdahl's case, to add Charles Morgan III to their team along with military psychiatrist Scott Moran. Government lawyers in January hired renowned civilian psychiatrist Gregory Saathoff, who reviewed case materials on Ariel Castro, the man accused of keeping three women locked in his Cleveland home for a decade.
"The fact that the prosecution has retained an independent civilian forensic psychiatrist with extensive experience testifying in high-profile trials, and who has a reputation of as a national leading expert in forensic psychiatry mandates that the defense be provided a similarly qualified expert," according to the defense's motion filed Friday of last week. "The defense will accept a civilian substitute who is comparable to Dr. Saathoff as one of the nation's premier forensic psychiatrists, and with Dr. Morgan's qualifications in combat stress, PTSD and the effects of captivity."
Bergdahl is charged with desertion with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty and misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit or place.
He was diagnosed with schizotypal personality disorder at the time he walked off post, according to the results of a sanity board evaluation conducted by Col. Christopher Lange at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, last summer.
Alerts on Bergdahl's mental health can be traced to February 2006, when the U.S. Coast Guard conducted a medical disposition for him after he suffered a panic attack at boot camp.
According to the medical disposition memo released by the defense, Bergdahl suffered adjustment disorder with depression. It was advised that Bergdahl receive stress management counseling and have clearance by a psychiatrist before re-enlisting.
The defense made its request for a second forensic psychiatrist to Gen. Robert Abrams, the commander of U.S. Forces Command who referred Bergdahl's case to court-martial, on Aug. 1. Abrams denied the request a few days later.
"Dr. Morgan has testified in several high-profile cases and has been published in every major peer-reviewed journal in his field," according to the defense's motion. "He is roughly the equal of the prosecution's appointed expert, Dr. Saathoff."
Saathoff was appointed by Abrams on Jan. 11. Saathoff has been authorized to provide 290 hours of consultation, and be paid up to $116,000, according to the defense's motion.
In the request to hire Morgan, the defense asked for funding for 90 hours, not to exceed $96,000.
The defense team argued it can't convey any useful information on mental health or psychiatric matters until it understands the issues.
"The fact that Sgt. Bergdahl lives every day with the enduring effects of the physical, emotional and mental torment that he endured during five years of captivity presents compelling issues on sentencing that must be understood on a scientific and medical level," according to the defense's motion.
The judge could rule on the appointment of a second forensic psychiatrist during a preliminary motions hearing scheduled for Aug. 22 at Fort Bragg.
Bergdahl walked off a remote post in Afghanistan in 2009 and was subsequently held by the Taliban for nearly five years. He was released in May 2014 in exchange for prisoners being held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay.
He has said he walked off his base to catch the attention of military brass. He wanted to warn them about what he believed were serious problems with leadership in his unit.
Staff writer Amanda Dolasinski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 486-3528. ___