When Army Sargent Bowe Bergdahl returned from captivity by the Taliban, the spotlight fell on the circumstances of his capture and his actions afterward. Although the story varies across witness testimonies, official statements reflect that he was captured after wandering away from his battalion in the dark of the night. As a result, he was swiftly charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy on his return to the United States. His defense attorney noted his mental health issues, which started prior to enlisting, and determined they could help Bergdahl avoid the suggested sentence of life in prison. To prove these matters, his defense attorney brought in a psychiatric expert to testify in court.
Psychiatric Evaluations Performed on Bergdahl
Before testifying in court, the psychiatric expert had to look at the mental health history of Bergdahl and spent time assessing his current mental state. Digging into his health history revealed many different mental health diseases, including anxiety, phobias and schizotypal personality disorder, which started well before enlisting.
In fact, Bergdahl had received an uncharacterized discharge from basic training with the United States Coast Guard before enlisting in the Army. From his time deployed, he also developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of the loss of a first lieutenant on the battlefield. The psychiatric expert performed many different evaluations and stress exams to confirm these diagnoses and paint a clear picture of Bergdahl’s mental health state when he walked away from his battalion.
Expert Testimony About Mitigating Circumstances
With so much evidence of existing mental health complications in hand, the psychiatric expert could confidently testify to the mental state of Bergdahl on that fateful night. He utilized his expertise to explain that experiencing the horrors of war can worsen not just PTSD, but also all the other health conditions affecting him at that time. He finished his testimony by stating that the cognitive health of individuals affected by these conditions does not allow for calculated decision-making.
Potential Sentencing Outcomes in This Case
Although with the testimony provided by the psychiatric expert, the court heard from Pentagon’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency official, Terrence Russell, on Bergdahl’s contributions. Russell explained that Bergdahl offered a wealth of logistics information that can be used to keep soldiers safe in future missions. Bergdahl also took it upon himself to apologize for his desertion actions and the impact they had on his fellow soldiers.
Sentencing Outcome Released by Judge
The testimony from the psychiatric expert, along with the other mitigating factors, helped reduce the sentence length from life in prison to dishonorable discharge and a rank reduction with no prison time. He is also required to forfeit $1,000 a month for the next 10 months to fulfill the terms of his sentence. The military judge made this tough determination after reviewing all of the facts in the case and weighing the mitigating factors.
After already spending five years in captivity under power of the Taliban, Bergdahl was extremely relieved to receive a reduced sentence. He will require ongoing psychiatric care for his mental health conditions to remain healthy well into the future.