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Lawyers For Bowe Bergdahl Say He Can't Get A Fair Trial After Trump Criticisms

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl at Fort Bragg, N.C. His defense team is arguing that he cannot get a fair trial after Donald Trump repeatedly called Bergdahl a traitor in public.
Ted Richardson

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl appeared before a military judge for a hearing on Monday at Fort Bragg, N.C. He is charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy for leaving his base in Afghanistan in 2009.

The defense is arguing that Bergdahl cannot get a fair trial because Donald Trump has personally commented on the case, including referring to Bergdahl as a traitor and insinuating that he should be thrown out of a plane without a parachute.

Bergdahl's defense team submitted a motion to dismiss the charges last month, and included a list of more than 40 instances of Trump speaking publicly about Bergdahl, dating back to April 2015.

According to the motion, Trump referred to Bergdahl as a traitor at least 45 times during the presidential campaign, specifically calling the sergeant a "no-good traitor," a "no-good, rotten traitor," a "dirty, rotten traitor," a "dirty, no-good traitor," a "no-good, dirty, rotten traitor," a "bum," a "horrible traitor," a "horrible, terrible, dirty, rotten traitor," a "dirty, rotten deserter," a "very bad person," a "whack job," a "son of a bitch" and "the worst."

Trump, who was sworn in as president Jan. 20, also said in 2015 that Sgt. Bergdahl "should be shot," and that "in the good old days he would have been executed."

The Associated Press reported that Bergdahl "appeared to grit his teeth while defense attorneys played a video exhibit of President Donald Trump's scathing condemnation of the soldier," during Monday's hearing.

"Bergdahl's attorneys placed their hands on his shoulder at times while they played the video at a pretrial hearing Monday. They played several minutes of footage of Trump calling Bergdahl a 'traitor' at different campaign and media appearances," the wire service reported. "The judge, Army Col. Jeffery Nance, didn't immediately rule on the defense request, but called the footage ... 'disturbing material.' "

In multiple public appearances, then-candidate Trump also said variously that five or six soldiers died during the search for Bergdahl.

In 2014, then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told Congress that "in all of our reports, I have seen no evidence that directly links any American combat death to the rescue or finding or search of Sgt. Bergdahl," The New York Times reported.

Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban and held captive for more than five years until he was released in 2014 in exchange for five Taliban detainees who were being held at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Army prosecutors allege he put the lives of other soldiers at risk by disappearing. Bergdahl could face life in prison if he is convicted.

The trial is scheduled to begin April 18.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rebecca Hersher is a reporter on NPR's Science Desk, where she reports on outbreaks, natural disasters, and environmental and health research. Since coming to NPR in 2011, she has covered the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, embedded with the Afghan army after the American combat mission ended, and reported on floods and hurricanes in the U.S. She's also reported on research about puppies. Before her work on the Science Desk, she was a producer for NPR's Weekend All Things Considered in Los Angeles.
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