Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl pleaded guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy on Monday, capping a saga that began in 2009 when he walked off his base in Afghanistan.
Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban and imprisoned for five years until the Obama administration arranged his release in 2014, trading five Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay.
The Army will now hold a hearing to determine punishment for Bergdahl, USA Today reports. He faces a potential life sentence on the misbehavior charge.
President Donald Trump has called Bergdahl a "traitor," and Bergdahl and his attorneys said such comments made it impossible for him to receive a fair trial. However, a military judge ruled this year that Trump's comments did not mean he would be treated differently.
Bergdahl made his guilty plea in front of a military judge in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
The New York Times reports:
He was charged with desertion, which carries a potential five-year sentence, and with misbehavior — essentially, endangering the troops who were sent to search for him — which carries a potential life sentence.
The negotiations for his release became a presidential campaign issue and an attacking point for Republican critics of President Obama’s foreign policy. Last year, as a candidate, Donald J. Trump repeatedly called the sergeant a "traitor" and called for him to be executed.
Sergeant Bergdahl had a different explanation, telling the Army’s chief investigator, Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dahl, that he decided to leave his base so he could walk to a larger base about 18 miles away in order to report what he felt were leadership problems in his own unit.
General Dahl, whose investigation formed the basis of the military’s case against Sergeant Bergdahl, later testified that jailing him would be "inappropriate," suggesting that the sergeant had been delusional and that he had never intended to desert.
According to the Times, army prosecutors said Bergdahl's departure altered military operations during the manhunt for him, and two soldiers and a Navy SEAL were wounded while searching for him. Bergdahl's lawyers said those injuries couldn't be directly tied to Bergdahl, however.