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Bowe Bergdahl Takes The Stand, Offers Apology To Wounded Service Members

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is escorted into the Ft. Bragg military courthouse for his sentencing hearing on Monday in Ft. Bragg, N.C.
Sara D. Davis
Getty Images
Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is escorted into the Ft. Bragg military courthouse for his sentencing hearing on Monday in Ft. Bragg, N.C.

Updated at 5:15 p.m. ET

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl took the stand at his sentencing hearing Monday and offered a lengthy, emotional apology to the current and former service members who were wounded searching for him after he walked off his military post in Afghanistan in 2009.

"It was never my intention for anyone to be hurt, and I never expected that to happen," he said during an unsworn statement at a military hearing in Fort Bragg, N.C. "I grieve for those who suffered and their families. ... I was trying to help, and knowing that I did not breaks my heart."

Bergdahl detailed the torture he endured during five years in Taliban custody, while clenching his hands at his sides and rocking back and forth, with a pained look on his face.

"There were moments when I lost all understanding of what I was," he said. He appeared to grow more emotional as his statement went on. Bergdahl described being held in a cage with a rough metal bar bottom where there was no way to get comfortable – he would just eventually get exhausted enough to sleep.

Bergdahl's captors would torment him, he said, by alternating between periods of round-the-clock dark and then constant light.

"The worst was the constant deterioration of everything, the constant pain of my body falling apart, the constant internal screams," he said.

Bergdahl has pleaded guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.

Earlier Monday, the military judge presiding over the case says he won't throw it because of President Trump's frequent accusatory remarks about the accused. The judge says he will still be able to rule fairly.

Bergdahl was a frequent target for Trump on the campaign trail. Trump has repeatedly called him a traitor and in 2015 suggested that Bergdahl "should be shot." The president alluded to those remarks just two weeks ago, on the day Bergdahl pleaded guilty. That led to a motion to dismiss from Bergdahl's defense lawyers, saying their client could not receive a fair sentence because of Trump's influence.

On Monday at Fort Bragg, N.C., the military judge presiding over Bergdahl's sentencing said the case will go on despite the remarks. The judge, Col. Jeffery Nance, said that unlawful command influence is the "mortal enemy of military justice."

However, Nance said he was "completely unaffected" by Trump's remarks. The judge stressed that he was close to retirement and had no plans to seek a higher military position. He says that under the circumstances, the public would have no reason to lose faith in military justice.

Nance had wide discretion on Bergdahl's sentence — he could potentially sentence him to anything from no jail time to life in prison. The president's comments, he says, could have some bearing as he determines the sentence.

As The Two-Way has reported:

"In previous filings, lawyers for Bergdahl cited at least 45 instances where candidate Trump called their client a traitor.

"As president, Trump had stopped talking about Bergdahl until [two weeks ago] ...

" 'I can't comment on Bowe Bergdahl,' Trump told reporters ... . 'But I think people have heard my comments in the past.' "

During the sentencing hearings, Nance said he would allow testimony from three current and former service members who were injured because the evidence showed their wounds were directly tied to searches for Bergdahl. Two testified last week, describing the circumstances that led to their injuries and how their lives have been impacted as they sat face-to-face with Bergdahl.

Today, the wife of the service member who was most seriously injured took the stand. Master Sgt. Mark Allen was shot in the head during searches. He is paralyzed, uses a wheelchair and is unable to speak.

"It's taken away all of the interaction. He lost me as a wife. I've [become] his caregiver," Shannon Allen told the court. "I mean, we can't even hold hands anymore."

A doctor told the court that Allen is minimally conscious and is in constant pain. He can feel sensations, the doctors said, but has little to no understanding or memory.

The court is expecting to hear testimony from additional defense witnesses prior to sentencing.

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Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.
Frank Morris has supervised the reporters in KCUR's newsroom since 1999. In addition to his managerial duties, Morris files regularly with National Public Radio. He’s covered everything from tornadoes to tax law for the network, in stories spanning eight states. His work has won dozens of awards, including four national Public Radio News Directors awards (PRNDIs) and several regional Edward R. Murrow awards. In 2012 he was honored to be named "Journalist of the Year" by the Heart of America Press Club.