WASHINGTON, Dec. 3 (UPI) — Lawyers for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl have applied for a pardon from President Barack Obama, seeking to avoid court martial proceedings over desertion charges.
The New York Times reported Bergdahl’s lawyers filed a clemency application with the White House, the Pentagon and the Justice Department, formally requesting Obama consider granting Bergdahl a pre-emptive pardon on the military criminal charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.
If convicted, Bergdahl faces a potential life sentence. His court martial is scheduled to begin May 15.
Bergdahl was a U.S. Army lieutenant stationed at a remote outpost in Afghanistan in 2009 when he left his post and walked away without permission, setting off a massive military rescue operation that included thousands of soldiers conducting hundreds of raids across the country, often under dangerous circumstances.
At the time, Bergdahl said his plan was to leave the remote outpost and travel by foot to a larger Army base dozens of miles away, where he intended to report problems to a superior officer. Instead, Bergdahl was captured by Taliban fighters and held prisoner for five years under brutal conditions.
Army doctors have said Bergdahl was suffering from a psychiatric disorder when he left his post.
The Obama administration negotiated Bergdahl’s release in 2014, apparently unaware of the looming controversy over the circumstances surrounding his capture. At first, Obama stood with Bergdahl’s parents and praised the man’s military service. But as fellow soldiers came forward with conflicting accounts and accusations of desertion, the incident quickly unraveled into a political firestorm.
Republicans criticized the terms of the covert deal, which included releasing five suspected Taliban operatives from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay to Qatar, whose government would be responsible for monitoring them and restricting their travel. Republicans said the Obama administration violated a federal law requiring notification of Congress 30 days before any prisoner transfer out of Guantanamo. The Obama administration argued the waiting period was void because Bergdahl’s life was in jeopardy if the deal could not be made immediately.
Bergdahl’s story was catalogued in season two of the popular NPR podcast Serial, which included lengthy interviews he did with a movie producer, during which he recounts his brutal treatment at the hands of the Taliban.
Bergdahl’s lawyers said they plan to file a request to dismiss the charges if Obama does not grant the pardon request prior to leaving office on Jan. 20. His legal team said comments during the campaign made by President-elect Donald Trump would make it impossible for Bergdahl to get a fair trial if Trump is commander in chief.
Multiple times during the campaign Trump assailed the deal struck to secure Bergdahl’s release. At one rally, Trump called Bergdahl a “dirty, rotten traitor” and suggested he should be shot by a firing squad.