A judge on Tuesday voided the conviction of Bowe Bergdahl, an American soldier who was captured during the War in Afghanistan and held hostage by the Taliban for five years. File Photo Courtesy of the U.S. Army/UPI
July 26 (UPI) — A federal judge has voided the 2017 court-martial conviction of Bowe Bergdahl due to conflicts of interest of the judge presiding over the case. The decision could pave the way for a potential second trial of the former U.S. Army sergeant who was held captive five years by the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Bergdahl pleaded guilty on Oct. 16, 2017, to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy and sentenced the next month by Judge Jeffery Nance to dishonorable discharge and to forfeit $10,000 in pay over leaving his post in Afghanistan in 2009.
In his ruling Tuesday, Judge Reggie Walton of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia vacated all judgements against Bergdahl after Oct. 16, 2017, which is when Bergdahl pleaded guilty and the date that Nance had applied to be an immigration judge under then-President Donald Trump who had repeatedly criticized the former Taliban captive as a traitor who deserved the death penalty.
Walton said that while the Justice Department was not involved in the court-martial proceedings, Trump, the ultimate authority of the agency who would determine Nance’s application for immigration judge, had shown that he had interest in the case’s outcome.
He continued that the court concludes that based on Nance’s application to an execute branch position that any reasonable person could deduce that the judge’s impartiality was jeopardized.
“This case presents a unique situation where the military judge might be inclined to appeal to the president’s expressed interest in the plaintiff’s conviction and punishment when applying for the immigration judge position,” Walton wrote in his 63-page ruling.
He added that while Nance should have disclosed his job application as potential grounds for his disqualification from the case, the court does not state there was actual bias in his ruling only that the facts present “an appearance of partiality,” which is enough of a reason to side with Bergdahl.
“Consequently, the judgment of the military judge regarding the plaintiff’s court-martial is rendered void,” he said.
Bergdahl was captured by a Taliban-aligned group of guerrilla fighters after he left his base in Afghanistan around midnight June 29, 2009. He said he was captured as he was attempting to reach leadership to report poor conditions within his unit.
He remained the Taliban’s captive five years, and his release was secured late May 2014 as part of a prisoner exchange involving five Taliban members being held at the controversial Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba.