Too often politicians and political leaders weigh in on criminal cases in defiance of our constitutional principles and individual rights. Such was the case in the military’s court martial of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl for desertion and endangering troops.
Presidential candidate and now President Trump on numerous occasions made prejudicial comments regarding his opinion about Sgt. Bergdahl’s guilt, calling him a “dirty rotten traitor” and that he should be executed. As President and Commander in Chief of all the armed forces, there was legitimate concern that his influence would taint the proceedings and cause military court personnel to act less than independent in the case. In fact his defense raised legal issues excoriating the President’s remarks and what their effect would be on the fundamental fairness of the proceedings. Military Judge, Colonel Jeffrey R. Nance of the United States Army denied those legal claims.
However, the presidential comments did have a surprising effect on the process as the sentencing court indicated that he would consider those comments in mitigation at any future sentencing hearing.
Following guilty pleas, that sentencing hearing concluded on November 3rd where Sgt. Bergdahl was not given a prison sentence. He was dishonorably discharged, demoted in rank and forfeited pay. We surmise that five years of imprisonment by the Taliban, under torturous conditions was enough for this court.
Our former colleague, Yale School of Law professor Eugene Fidell, was part of this defense team. He pays tribute to the incredible work and commitment of the JAG officers that represented Sgt. Bergdahl. We praise their commitment to the principles of the United States Constitution in their zealous representation of Sgt. Bergdahl.
So too do we praise Judge Nance for his commitment to the rule of law and to fundamental fairness in such a highly publicized and provocative case. Rejecting the President of the United States and exercising independent judgment is no small matter.