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Did Trump Just Accidentally Ruin The Case Against Bowe Bergdahl?
Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was set for sentencing on Oct. 23 after pleading guilty last week to abandoning his combat post in Afghanistan in 2009. But the punishment of the much-despised soldier has been delayed, thanks to comments by President Donald Trump — comments that, due to his authority as commander-in-chief, could end up letting Bergdahl go free.
Bergdahl’s defense team filed a last-minute motion on Oct. 23 to completely dismiss the case against him, citing past statements in which Trump had referred to the sergeant as “a no-good traitor who should have been executed” during his presidential campaign. Those comments, the defense argues, are tantamount to unlawful command influence.
Army Col. Jeffery R. Nance, the military judge overseeing Bergdahl’s case, had ruled in February that Trump’s statements as a candidate (and, therefore, a private citizen) didn’t rise to the level of undue command influence. But Nance had also assured Bergdahl’s defense team that they could raise the issue again if Trump commented publicly on the case. Last week in a press conference, Trump said he’d decline any comment on Bergdahl’s guilty plea but quickly added: “I think people have heard my comments in the past.”
That statement, delivered as commander-in-chief, casts a pall over the sentencing proceedings, Bergdahl’s lawyers say. "President Trump stands at the pinnacle of an unbroken chain of command that includes key participants in the remaining critical steps of the case," the defense argued in its motion, according to the Los Angeles Times.
On Oct. 23, Judge Nance allowed attorneys to question him regarding the impact of Trump’s statements, and he ultimately delayed the sentencing until Oct. 25 so he could thoroughly consider the defense motion, the Associated Press reports.
“I don't have any doubt whatsoever that I can be fair and impartial in the sentencing in this matter," Nance told the AP. "[But] the member of the public that we are interested in maintaining confidence in the military justice system... is going to be influenced by context.”
Army Sgt. Bowe BergdahlPhoto via DoD
This is the second time in October alone that public posturing by a politician has threatened to taint military investigations. In an Oct. 4 letter to acting Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy, Sen. Marco Rubio demanded the branch nullify the military commission of 2nd Lt. Spenser Rapone, the West Point graduate, Afghanistan combat veteran, and self-identified member of the Democratic Socialists of America who posted photos of himself wearing a Che Guevara shirt under his uniform and a “Communism Will Win” sign tucked into his cover on Sept. 24.
The Air Force Court of Appeals in May 2017 also reversed a conviction in the sexual assault case U.S. v. Boyce after finding that public statements by Sens. Claire McCaskill and Kirsten Gillibrand regarding the “Marines United” scandal earlier this year created “the appearance of unlawful command influence” in the case, as retired Col. Don Christensen, a former Air Force chief prosecutor and current president of the advocacy group Protect Our Defenders, told Task & Purpose at the time.
The court wrote in Boyce that “the appearance of unlawful command influence” exists “where an objective, disinterested observer, fully informed of all the facts and circumstances, would harbor a significant double about the fairness of the proceeding” — a calculus evident in Nance’s own public comments on Oct. 23.
Boyce sets a very weak precedent; as Christensen told us, its influence on the Bergdahl proceedings will depend on whether judges like Nance read the brief in the first place.
But it may well be a factor in Nance’s reasoning. Given Trump’s talent for saying (and tweeting) more than previous presidents have seen fit to, it seems possible that the commander-in-chief may have inadvertently thrown a monkey wrench into Bergdahl’s sentencing — and, in turn, offered one of the most reviled figures of the Global War on Terror a get-out-of-jail-free card.
New trailer for 'Bloodshot' gives us Vin Diesel as a super soldier who can literally get shot in the face and just walk it off
(Reuters) - In the summer of 2004, U.S. soldier Greg Walker drove to a checkpoint just outside of Baghdad's Green Zone with his Kurdish bodyguard, Azaz. When he stepped out of his SUV, three Iraqi guards turned him around at gunpoint.
As he walked back to the vehicle, he heard an AK-47 being racked and a hail of cursing in Arabic and Kurdish. He turned to see Azaz facing off with the Iraqis.
"Let us through or I'll kill you all," Walker recalled his Kurdish bodyguard telling the Iraqi soldiers, who he described as "terrified."
He thought to himself: "This is the kind of ally and friend I want."
The US military quietly pulled 2,000 troops out of Afghanistan over the past year without a peace deal
The U.S. military has pulled about 2,000 troops from Afghanistan over the past year, the top U.S. and coalition military commander said Monday.
"As we work in Afghanistan with our partners, we're always looking to optimize the force," Army Gen. Austin Miller said at a news conference in Kabul. "Unbeknownst to the public, as part of our optimization … we reduced our authorized strength by 2,000 here."
"I'm confident that we have the right capabilities to: 1. Reach our objectives as well as continue train, advise, and assist throughout the country," Miller continued.
The New York Times was first to report that the U.S. military had reduced its troop strength in Afghanistan even though peace talks with the Taliban are on hiatus. The number of troops in the country has gone from about 15,000 to 13,000, a U.S. official told Task & Purpose on condition of anonymity.
Separately, the U.S. military is considering drawing down further to 8,600 troops in Afghanistan as part of a broader political agreement, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters on Oct. 19.
"We've always said, that it'll be conditions based, but we're confident that we can go down to 8,600 without affecting our [counterterrorism] operations, if you will," Esper said while enroute to Afghanistan.
So far, no order has been given to draw down to 8,600 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the U.S. official said.
After President Donald Trump cancelled peace talks with the Taliban, which had been expected to take place at Camp David around the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the U.S. military has increased both air and ground attacks.
In September, U.S. military aircraft dropped more ordnance in Afghanistan than they have since October 2010, according to Air Force statistics.
However, the president has also repeatedly vowed to bring U.S. troops home from the post 9/11 wars. Most recently, he approved withdrawing most U.S. troops from Syria.
On Monday, Esper said the situations in Syria and Afghanistan are very different, so the Afghans and other U.S. allies "should not misinterpret our actions in the recent week or so with regard to Syria."