(CN) – Military experts testified Tuesday about the intelligence Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl revealed after being returned to the United States in a prisoner exchange, which offered officials a rare glimpse into insurgents in Afghanistan and how they detain hostages.
The testimony came during the sentencing phase for Bergdahl, who pleaded guilty this month to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy for walking away from his combat outpost in June 2009, a move that triggered a five-year search and a divisive prisoner exchange.
Prosecutors have spent the last few days zeroed in on the exhaustive manhunt in the days and months after Bergdahl slipped away through revealing testimony by several U.S. troops injured in the search efforts.
Bergdahl, 31, offered an apology Monday to the wounded and his defense attorneys steered Tuesday’s testimony toward the soldier’s time in Taliban captivity and efforts to share details with the military upon his return.
Bergdahl spent four years and 11 months as a Taliban prisoner, described by one military agent as “absolute torture and horror.” Army Col. Judge Jeffrey R. Nance has broad discretion in sentencing Bergdahl, who faces a maximum of life in prison.
Amber Dach, a 16-year military intelligence veteran, worked Bergdahl’s case as the primary analyst in the five years following his disappearance. On Tuesday, she described Bergdahl’s eagerness to help intelligence officials at a hospital in Germany days after he was returned to U.S. authorities, the Associated Press reported.
“He was very motivated to just downloading all of the details that he recalled,” according to the AP. “It was a gold mine. It really reshaped the way we did intel collection in the area.”
Terrance Russell, a Department of Defense expert with the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency who debriefed Bergdahl, testified that Bergdahl was subjected to some of the worst conditions a U.S. prisoner of war has suffered in 60 years. He turned a 1,200-page transcript from debriefing Bergdahl into a database, which produced reports on insurgent methods that the military still uses.
Russell – who also debriefed former Pfc. Jessica Lynch and more than 125 POWs, isolated persons and detainees – said Bergdahl’s legal case has blocked him from learning even more from the soldier.
Bergdahl has said his captors beat him with rubber hoses and copper wire. He endured endless beatings which became worse after failed escape attempts, suffered through years of uncontrollable diarrhea and spent the majority of his time in captivity locked inside a 7-foot metal cage. His weak muscles barely allowed him to stand or walk and he now suffers from nerve damage in his lower legs as well as back injuries.
Prosecutors say Bergdahl’s disappearance altered the trajectory of U.S. operations in Afghanistan and exposed thousands of soldiers scouring the enemy-infested desert to unnecessary risk. Though they have conceded that he suffered excruciatingly in captivity, they say he should still be held accountable for his actions.
Bergdahl’s release in a May 2014 prisoner exchange with five Taliban detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay was overshadowed by the political firestorm that still fuels criticism from Washington lawmakers.
On Monday, Judge Nance rejected a defense request to toss the case, ruling that he could fairly sentence Bergdahl despite condemnatory remarks President Donald Trump has made.
Trump repeatedly called Bergdahl a “dirty, rotten traitor” during the 2016 campaign, a “son of a bitch” who should be killed, and said that he, Trump, would be willing to kill him himself.
Testimony will resume Wednesday morning at Fort Bragg, N.C. and is expected to last several more days.