Following a federal judge vacating the court-martial conviction of former Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl last week, a group of Congressional lawmakers – themselves military veterans – are urging the Department of Defense to consider a retrial. 

The letter, sent by Rep. Mike Waltz (R-Florida), Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas), Rep. Jake Ellzey (R-Texas), Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Montana), and Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pennsylvania) on July 28 to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Attorney General Merrick Garland, called for “an immediate review of options for a new trial” for Bergdahl. 

“Bergdahl’s actions endangered and potentially got his comrades killed,” continued the letter, adding that, “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.”

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Bergdahl, who voluntarily left his post in Afghanistan in 2009 and subsequently spent five years imprisoned by the Taliban before being returned in 2014 as part of a controversial prisoner exchange, pleaded guilty to desertion in 2017. 

His initial disappearance in 2009 triggered widespread rescue efforts. One soldier, retired Army Master Sgt. Mark Allen, was severely wounded during those operations, left unable to speak or walk after being shot by a sniper. Allen ultimately passed away in 2009 as a result of his injuries. 

While the prosecution initially asked for a 14-year jail sentence, Bergdahl ultimately received a dishonorable discharge, a reduction in rank to Private, and a $10,000 fine. 

Bergdahl initially appealed his case before the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) on the basis of unlawful command influence, based on public statements from then-Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) and then-President Donald Trump in the leadup to the court-martial calling for harsh punishment for Bergdahl. The appeal was ultimately denied in a 3-2 decision in 2020.

On July 25, though, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton vacated Bergdahl’s conviction. Walton’s ruling was based on the fact that the military judge presiding over the court-martial – Army Col. Jeffrey Nance – failed to disclose that he was applying for a position with the Justice Department as an immigration judge during the trial, representing a conflict of interest given that the executive branch also represented the prosecution in the case. 

Walton’s ruling vacated the entirety of the Bergdahl case from October 16, 2017 – both the date that Bergdahl pleaded guilty and the date Nance began applying for his position.

Neither the Department of Defense nor the Justice Department have publicly commented on the case since Walton’s ruling. 

Begdahl’s legal counsel also declined to comment further on the ruling or on the letter, saying only that “Judge Walton’s decision is subject to further appeal.”

Which still leaves Bergdahl – and the government – in a state of limbo. Either abide by the latest legal ruling or appeal to another court jurisdiction. 

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