Bergdahl Asks Obama for Pardon Before Desertion Trial

(CN) – Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the Army soldier freed in a prisoner exchange after being held captive by the Taliban for five years, asked President Barack Obama for a pardon before he leaves the White House next month.

Bergdahl, 30, faces an April court-martial for charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy for walking away from his post in Afghanistan in 2009.

White House and U.S. Justice Department officials confirmed Saturday that Bergdahl had filed copies for a presidential pardon seeking leniency before President-elect Donald Trump is sworn into office on Jan. 20.

Trump has remained a vocal critic of Bergdahl and his attorney, Eugene Fidell, has expressed doubt that the soldier could receive a fair trial under a Trump presidency. The president-elect denounced Bergdahl as a “dirty, rotten traitor” while on the campaign trail, and suggested he would have been executed in the “old days.”

After leaving his post, Bergdahl was immediately captured and spent five years in Taliban captivity, where he endured some of the worst conditions a U.S. prisoner of war has suffered in 60 years, according to testimony last fall from Army lead investigator Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dahl.

His release came only after Obama agreed in 2014 to swap five Taliban detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay, a move that outraged some Republican lawmakers who accused the president of putting the nation at risk.

During a prior hearing at the San Antonio military base where Bergdahl is stationed, Fidell said the solider is “deeply grateful to President Obama for saving his life.”

If the pardon is not granted, Fidell plans to file a motion to have his client’s charges dismissed after Trump’s inauguration, under the argument that the incoming president violated Bergdahl’s due-process rights, according to media reports.

Last month, Fidell asked the military’s highest court to throw out the charges amid criticism from Sen. John McCain.

Bergdahl, of Hailey, Idaho, could face life in a military prison if convicted of the misbehavior charge.

He has said that, when he left his post in 2009, he tried to run the 20 miles from his platoon’s base, Observation Post Mest, to a higher headquarters, hoping his absence would trigger enough attention to allow him to air his grievances about leadership problems.

His trial is scheduled to begin April 18 at the Fort Bragg courtroom on post.

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