Bowe Bergdahl pleads guilty, says Trump's comments prevented a fair trial

The alleged Army deserter claims that Trump's campaign comments about him were prejudicial

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published October 16, 2017 1:22PM (EDT)

 (AP Photo/Ted Richardson, File)
(AP Photo/Ted Richardson, File)

On Monday, as Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl pleaded guilty to desertion and misbehavior, comments he made last year about the impact of President Donald Trump's repeated denunciations on his ability to get a fair trial have come to light.

"We may as well go back to kangaroo courts and lynch mobs that got what they wanted. The people who want to hang me — you're never going to convince those people," Bergdahl told a British filmmaker last year, according to ABC News.

The footage was consistent with the arguments made by Bergdahl's defense lawyers during his trial. They pointed to more than 40 occasions in which Trump publicly criticized Bergdahl during the heat of the campaign. Trump called him a "traitor." He suggested that Bergdahl be thrown out of an airplane, and told an audience that he missed "the old days" when someone like Bergdahl would have been executed with a rifle," bing, bong." Bergdahl's defense attorneys claimed that these remarks could prejudice potential jurors into feeling obligated to share the president's views.

Prosecutors disputed this interpretation of Trump's comments, characterizing them as campaign rhetoric that would be widely recognized as such by potential jurors.

Bergdahl, who was a trooper in the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, walked away from his Afghanistan combat post in June 2009 and was captured by a Taliban faction known as the Haqqani Network. For the next five years, he was subjected to what one American official told ABC was the worst prisoner abuse experienced by an American POW since the Vietnam War.

Although Bergdahl was released in May 2014 — as part of a prisoner exchange for five Taliban inmates at Guantanamo Bay — he did not become the subject of sympathy, but instead was immediately denounced for having deserted his post.

In the last email that he sent to his parents prior to walking off the base, Bergdahl wrote: "The future is too good to waste on lies. And life is way too short to care for the damnation of others, as well as to spend it helping fools with their ideas that are wrong. I have seen their ideas and I am ashamed to even be american. The horror of the self-righteous arrogance that they thrive in. It is all revolting."

Whatever his thoughts on the Afghanistan war in 2009, Bergdahl openly thanked President Barack Obama for "saving his life" after he was released in 2014.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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Bowe Bergdahl Donald Trump