US Army deserter Bergdahl faces life in prison as sentencing hearing opens

US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, center, is escorted into the courthouse after a lunch break during his hearing in the case of United States vs. Bergdahl in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, US on October 16, 2017. (File photo by Reuters)
Updated 23 October 2017
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US Army deserter Bergdahl faces life in prison as sentencing hearing opens

CHICAGO: A sentencing hearing begins on Monday to determine the fate of US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who could face life in prison after pleading guilty to deserting his duties in Afghanistan in June 2009 and endangering the lives of fellow troops.
The hearing at North Carolina’s Fort Bragg is expected to include testimony from soldiers injured in the dangerous search for Bergdahl, who walked off his combat outpost in Paktika province to report what he said were “critical problems” in his chain of command.
During his absence, the Idaho native was captured by the Taliban and spent the next five years suffering torture, abuse and neglect in captivity. A Taliban prisoner swap won his release in 2014, a move that drew derision from within the military and the Republican Party.
During last year’s presidential campaign, Republican Donald Trump called Bergdahl “a no-good traitor who should have been executed.”
Former Army Corporal Jonathan Morita told Reuters in a phone interview on Sunday that he may testify this week before Army Judge Col. Jeffery Nance about his injuries, including one to his hand during a 2009 search operation.
Morita said he believed Bergdahl should be dishonorably discharged and sentenced to as much as life in prison.
“A fair sentence, I hope, for his actions and what it created,” Morita said.
Navy SEAL Senior Chief James Hatch, shot in the leg during an attempted rescue, is also expected to speak at the hearing, his attorney, Buddy Rake, told KPHO-TV last week. Rake could not be reached on Sunday.
Bergdahl, 31, pleaded guilty last Monday to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, with the latter offense carrying a possible life sentence.
His decision to enter a “naked plea” — meaning he had not reached an agreement about the sentencing terms with prosecutors — surprised some military law experts.
In determining a sentence, the judge may consider Bergdahl’s time in captivity, while prosecutors may focus on the soldiers injured in the search.
Bergdahl, who testified in court that he tried to escape his captors 15 times, admitted wrongdoing but said he never intended to put anyone at risk.
“I didn’t think there’d be any reason to pull off a crucial mission to look for one guy,” he said, adding his actions were “very inexcusable.”
Bergdahl remains on active duty in a clerical job at a base in San Antonio.
The White House released a statement on Friday saying that the president expected those involved in military justice cases to use independent judgment. It did not mention Bergdahl by name.
“Each military justice case must be resolved on its own facts,” the statement said.


Families bury victims as Tanzania ferry disaster toll passes 200

Updated 23 September 2018
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Families bury victims as Tanzania ferry disaster toll passes 200

  • Divers were also set to continue their grim search in the waters around the boat
  • With a surface area of 70,000 square kilometers, Lake Victoria is roughly the size of Ireland and is shared by Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya

UKARA, Tanzania: Grieving families were on Sunday preparing to bury victims of Tanzania’s devastating ferry disaster, with more than 200 confirmed dead after the crowded boat capsized in Lake Victoria.
Hopes were fading of finding any more survivors three days after the ferry sank on Thursday, even after rescuers pulled out an engineer who had managed to find refuge in an air pocket in the upturned vessel.
“We are going to start burying bodies not yet identified by relatives,” said John Mongella, governor of Mwanza region, where the MV Nyerere ferry had been coming in to dock on the island of Ukara.
“The (burial) ceremony will be overseen by Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa, in the presence of clergy members of different denominations,” Mongella said Saturday on TBC 1 public television.
Divers were also set to continue their grim search in the waters around the boat, where late Saturday they were watched by anxious crowds gathered just meters (yards) away on Ukara’s shore.
Mongella said 218 people had been confirmed dead, while 41 escaped the tragedy with their lives — a total figure far above the official capacity of the boat, which was in theory only able to carry 101 passengers.
One survivor was an engineer who shut himself into a “special room” with enough air for him to stay alive until he was found, said local lawmaker Joseph Mkundi.
Transport Minister Isack Kamwelwe said on Saturday that 172 of the victim’s bodies had been identified by relatives.
State television cited witnesses reporting that more than 200 people had boarded the ferry at Bugolora, a town on the larger Ukerewe Island. It was market day, which usually sees the vessel packed with people and goods.
Witnesses told AFP the ferry sank when passengers rushed to one side to disembark as it approached the dock. Others blamed the captain, saying he had made a brusque maneuver.
Dozens of wooden coffins lined the shore on Saturday, waiting to be seen by families as police and volunteers sought to keep hundreds of curious locals at bay.
Aisha William came to collect the body of her husband. “He left on Tuesday around noon, but he never came home. I do not know how I am going to raise my two children,” she said.
Ahmed Caleb, a 27-year-old trader, railed at a tragedy “which could have been prevented. I’ve lost my boss, friends, people I went to school with,” he sighed.
The aging vessel, whose hull and propellers were all that remained visible above water, was also carrying cargo, including sacks of maize, bananas and cement, when it capsized.
Tanzanian President John Magufuli on Friday ordered the arrest of the ferry’s management and declared four days of national mourning.
In a speech broadcast on TBC 1, Magufuli said “it appears clear that the ferry was overloaded,” adding that the government would cover the funeral expenses of the victims.
With a surface area of 70,000 square kilometers, oval-shaped Lake Victoria is roughly the size of Ireland and is shared by Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya.
It is not uncommon for ferries to capsize in the lake, and the number of fatalities is often high due to a shortage of life jackets and the fact that many people in the region cannot swim.