In an unexpected move, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl took the stand in his sentencing hearing Monday, breaking down several times and apologizing to those who were wounded while searching for him after he abandoned his post in Afghanistan.
“I was trying to do something good and it turned bad,” Bergdahl said, reading from a statement at the beginning of his testimony. “My words alone can’t relieve the pain. … I think about what I did every day for the last eight years.”
Aside from when Bergdahl pleaded guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, it was the first time the courtroom had heard from him. His appearance came as a surprise to courthouse reporters, who were told another witness would be testifying Monday afternoon.
Bergdahl abandoned his post in Afghanistan on June 30, 2009, and then was captured by the Taliban. On Monday, he detailed several unsuccessful escape attempts. He started crying multiple times, at one point shaking his head, too overcome with emotion to answer a question about his captivity from the defense.
Bergdahl’s testimony came on a busy day in court, which began with the military judge who will be deciding his sentencing denying a motion by defense attorneys to dismiss the case based on comments made by President Donald Trump.
The court also heard heart-wrenching testimony from the wife of a soldier seriously injured in the search for Bergdahl.
“He’s lost me as a wife, essentially, because instead of being his wife, I’m his caregiver,” said Shannon Allen, whose husband, Master Sgt. Mark Allen, was shot in the head. “I mean, we can’t hold hands anymore, unless I pry open his hand and place mine in it.”
A contrite Bergdahl addressed those who were injured looking for him, ended his opening statement with: “Thank you for your sacrifice.”
Bergdahl was not cross-examined by the prosecution, only questioned by the defense.
In denying the defense request to dismiss the case, the judge, Col. Jeffery Nance, said Monday that Trump’s criticism had not prevented Bergdahl from having a fair sentencing hearing, and that he was “completely unaffected by any comments” about Bergdahl.
However, he added that he will consider Trump’s comments as a mitigating factor when he hands down Bergdahl’s sentence.
Bergdahl faces life in prison. He was released in 2014 in a prisoner swap arranged by President Barack Obama. The deal was criticized by Trump and other Republicans.
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SOURCE: NBC News, Shauna Williams and Elizabeth Chuck