US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, accused of endangering fellow soldiers who searched for him after he walked off his combat outpost in Afghanistan in 2009 and was captured by the Taliban, pleaded guilty on Monday to desertion and misbehaviour before the enemy.
In court in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Bergdahl admitted leaving his post in Paktika province in June 2009. He said he got lost after 20 minutes, was captured two or three hours later, and that he never wanted to put anyone at risk.
“I was captured by the enemy against my will,” the 31-year-old Idaho native told the hearing. “At the time I had no intention of causing search and recovery operations. … It’s very inexcusable.”
The offence of misbehaviour before the enemy carries a possible life sentence. Neither side has said whether Bergdahl has entered into a plea agreement with prosecutors.
Bergdahl has been derided by Republicans who criticised the Obama administration for the Taliban prisoner swap in 2014 that won his release after five years in captivity. During last year’s presidential campaign, Donald Trump called Bergdahl “a no-good traitor who should have been executed.”
Bergdahl’s lawyers had argued that such comments made it impossible for him to get a fair trial, but military judges refused to dismiss the charges.
“We may as well go back to kangaroo courts and lynch mobs that got what they wanted,” Bergdahl said in a 2016 interview with a British filmmaker obtained by ABC News/Good Morning America and aired on Monday. “The people who want to hang me, you’re never going to convince those people.”
In the interview, Bergdahl did not say why he left his post before he was captured, but he rejected the notion that he sympathized with his captors.
“It’s very insulting, the idea that they would think I did that,” he said, adding he was confined to a small cage for more than four years.
Bergdahl, who was charged in 2015, remains on active duty in a clerical job at a base in San Antonio. He said in a podcast in 2015 that he left his post to draw attention to “leadership failure” in his unit.
The official search for him lasted 45 days, but the United States spent years trying to determine his whereabouts and bring him home.
During that time, he endured torture, abuse and neglect at the hands of Taliban forces, a military expert testified previously.