(CN) – Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl pleaded guilty Monday to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy for walking away from his post in Afghanistan in 2009, a move that triggered a five-year search and divisive prisoner exchange.
Bergdahl, 31, told a military judge in Fort Bragg, N.C,. that he understood leaving his base in Afghanistan’s Paktika province was against the law, and that he left on his own.
Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban-linked Haqqani network within hours of his disappearance on the morning of June 30, 2009. His absence set off an intensive manhunt that is blamed for some of his comrades being seriously wounded.
“I was captured by the enemy against my will,” Bergdahl, of Hailey, Idaho, said at the plea hearing on Monday morning.
He told Army Col. Judge Jeffery R. Nance that he had no intention of causing search and recovery operations, adding: “It’s very inexcusable.”
There is no indication as of yet what sentence the embattled sergeant will receive, but prosecutors did not make an agreement to limit punishment in exchange for his guilty pleas.
The desertion charge carries with it a possible five-year sentence, while Bergdahl could face life in prison for misbehavior before the enemy.
He is scheduled to be sentenced next week.
Questions have lingered over the case for years. Bergdahl has been portrayed as a traitor, and his May 2014 exchange for five Taliban detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay created a political firestorm that still fuels criticism from Washington lawmakers.
Bergdahl’s attorneys had unsuccessfully argued that a fair trial under President Donald Trump would be impossible.
Judge Nance wrote in a February ruling that Trump’s repeated criticism of Bergdahl was merely “inflammatory campaign rhetoric.”
Trump has referred to Bergdahl as “a no-good traitor” and “a dirty, rotten traitor,” according to a motion filed by Bergdahl’s attorneys.
Bergdahl told Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dahl, the Army’s lead investigator, that he left his platoon’s base to begin a 20-mile run, hoping that his absence would cause enough attention to allow him to air his leadership grievances with a general.
But he quickly found himself tangled in the hills before six to seven men on motorcycles carrying high-powered weapons snatched him away less than 24 hours after he walked into the enemy-infested desert.
Dahl testified that sending Bergdahl to prison “would be inappropriate.” A military expert who debriefed Bergdahl said the soldier’s five years in captivity were the worst a U.S. prisoner of war has suffered in 60 years.
A 2015 hearing in San Antonio revealed the extent of the abuse Bergdahl endured, including being beaten with a copper wire and rubber hose, chained and neglected. He endured endless beatings which became worse after failed escape attempts, suffered through years of uncontrollable diarrhea and spent three years trapped in a 7-foot metal cage.
Military prosecutors had conceded that Bergdahl “suffered greatly” but insisted that he be held accountable for walking away from his duties and single-handedly altering U.S. operations in Afghanistan.
Bergdahl remains on active duty in a clerical job at a San Antonio military base.