Washington (AFP) – Bowe Bergdahl, a US soldier held captive in Afghanistan for five years before being freed in a prisoner swap, pleaded guilty Monday to desertion and misconduct for walking away from his unit into enemy hands in 2009.
“I left my observation post on my own,” he told a court martial, according to CNN. “I understand leaving was against the law.”
Earlier this year Bergdahl’s lawyers sought to have the case against him thrown out after President Donald Trump labelled him a “dirty rotten traitor,” ostensibly prejudicing the case.
Bergdahl, 31, disappeared from Combat Outpost Mest-Malak in Paktika Province, Afghanistan on June 20, 2009.
After departing the base, leaving behind his firearm, the young soldier was quickly captured by militants from the feared Haqqani faction, a Taliban-linked outfit blamed for many deadly attacks on US soldiers.
The Haqqanis are the same group that held a US-Canadian family for five years before they were freed last week in what Pakistan’s army described as a rescue operation.
A search and rescue mission was launched and some of Bergdahl’s former comrades have accused him of putting their lives in danger by his actions. He was eventually freed in a May 2014 deal after the United States released five Afghan detainees from Guantanamo Bay.
A private first class at the time of his disappearance, he was automatically promoted twice in captivity, first to the rank of specialist and then sergeant.
The case divided the American public, with many regarding him as a classic deserter to the enemy but others viewing him as representative of the difficulties US service members have under the conditions of the country’s long war in Afghanistan.
In a serial podcast on his case two years ago broadcast by National Public Radio, Bergdahl said that he “left his post to try to stir controversy in order to get the attention of top military officials so he could explain problems he saw in the Army.”
But later, he told the podcast, “Suddenly, it really starts to sink in that I really did something bad. Or, not bad, but I really did something serious.”