Five military veterans — Reps. Mike Waltz, R-Fla.; Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas; Jake Ellzey, R-Texas; Ryan Zinke, R-Mont.; and Guy Reschenthaler, R-Pa. — sent a letter to both Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Attorney General Merrick Garland demanding “an immediate review of options for a new trial” for Bergdahl, calling it a matter of fairness and justice.
Bergdahl pled guilty to desertion in 2017, but his conviction was thrown out in July on a technicality. He’d left his military base in Afghanistan in 2009. He was captured by the Taliban and held captive for nearly five years. Hundreds of troops spent thousands of man hours looking for the missing soldier, and military officials said several were wounded in enemy attacks.
“Bergdahl’s actions endangered and potentially got his comrades killed,” the GOP lawmakers wrote. “This outcome dishonors those who served and died alongside Bergdahl, and by omission condoning such behavior, puts the lives of future American soldiers in peril.”
Bergdahl’s conviction carried with it a dishonorable discharge and a $10,000 penalty but no jail time, given the years he spent being tortured by hostile forces.
But on July 25, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton ruled that conviction was invalid because the military judge who presided over the court-martial — Jeffrey Nance — failed to disclose a personal conflict of interest: his application to the executive branch for a job as an immigration judge.
Former President Donald Trump was outspoken in his criticism of Bergdahl both before his election in 2016 and during his time in office. Walton ruled that Nance’s failure to disclose a job application with senior Trump officials created the appearance of impropriety.
Both Department of Justice and Department of Defense officials have declined to speak publicly on possible next steps in the case. The lawmakers behind the letter said that simply allowing the case to fade away is unacceptable, and asked for a new trial “as expeditiously as possible.”
Bergdahl, now 37, has kept a low profile since his return from Afghanistan. He had testified that he left his post to complain about a toxic leadership climate in his unit. Bergdahl was only freed after the release of five senior Taliban leaders by then President Barack Obama.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.