Judge Grants Bowe Bergdahl Partial Win in Case Seeking to Erase Conviction, Sentence

Then-Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
This undated file image provided by the U.S. Army shows then-Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. (AP Photo/U.S. Army, File)

A federal judge has ruled partially in favor of former Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in his bid to throw out the verdict of his court-martial but rejected his claim that President Donald Trump and the late Sen. John McCain exercised unlawful command influence in the case.

Senior Judge Reggie Walton, of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., issued an order March 31 partially granting the federal government's motion to dismiss the Bergdahl case, rejecting the former soldier's argument that comments made by Trump and McCain unduly influenced his military proceedings.

But Walton granted Bergdahl's motion for a summary judgment on the soldier's claim that the military judge who presided over his case did not disclose that he had applied for a civilian position at the Justice Department while the court-martial was underway -- a failure that Bergdahl argues denied him a fair trial.

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In his order, Walton did not stipulate what the decision will mean for Bergdahl or for the case. Walton promised that the complete ruling and his reasoning behind it would be revealed in an opinion "to be issued ... within the next sixty days."

Bergdahl's attorneys declined to comment on the order from the judge. The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment by publication.

Army spokeswoman Heather Hagan told Military.com on Monday that the Army "does not comment on pending litigation against" the service.

Bergdahl filed a petition in civilian court in February 2021 following a military appeals process that upheld his conviction and sentencing based on a guilty plea for deserting his post in Afghanistan in June 2009.

He was captured and held by the Taliban for five years, setting off a massive manhunt that involved hundreds of U.S. troops.

Bergdahl was sentenced in 2017 to a dishonorable discharge, reduction to the rank of private, and forfeiture of $10,000 in pay. As a result of his discharge status, he is ineligible for health services or disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Bergdahl said he walked away from his unit, 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, to draw the attention of senior Army leaders to problems in his unit. He later was labeled by critics as a traitor, blamed for injuries suffered by U.S. troops during the search-and-rescue effort, and held liable for the prisoner swap in 2014 that led to his release but returned five Taliban leaders to Afghanistan.

Throughout Bergdahl's judicial proceedings, Trump, then a presidential candidate and later president, described or referred to Bergdahl as a "dirty rotten traitor." McCain threatened congressional hearings if Bergdahl received no punishment.

The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces rejected Bergdahl's unlawful influence argument and upheld his conviction in a 3-2 decision, with the majority saying that Bergdahl's choice to plead guilty in his court-martial weighed heavily on their ruling.

Bergdahl's attorneys, who include Eugene Fidell, of Feldesman Tucker Leifer Fidell, took the case to the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., seeking a review based on claims that the military court system failed to recognize the impact of Trump's and McCain's comments and that the presiding judge failed to disclose information about his employment plans following military retirement.

During the court-martial proceedings, Jeffery Nance, then an Army colonel, did not reveal that he had applied for a job as an immigration judge at the Justice Department and simply said that he planned to retire soon thereafter from military service.

But according to Bergdahl's attorneys, Nance highlighted his role as presiding judge in the case in his job application, and he was appointed as an immigration judge in the year after Bergdahl's conviction.

Attorneys with the Justice Department's Civil Division argue that Bergdahl has no grounds to bring up Nance's job application conflict because his attorneys waited two years after the judge was sworn in to use his failure to disclose as the basis for a legal case.

Walton's complete order is expected to give more clarification on the reasoning behind his decision. The judge noted, however, that even that memorandum of opinion will not necessarily be the final word in the case.

"This order is not a final Order subject to appeal," Walton wrote.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Military.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

Related: Bowe Bergdahl Petitions Federal Court to Have His Case Expunged

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