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.


Britain and EU should prepare for second Brexit referendum: Former UK PM

Updated 4 min 47 sec ago
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Britain and EU should prepare for second Brexit referendum: Former UK PM

LONDON: Former Prime Minister Tony Blair will say on Friday that Britain and the European Union should prepare for a second Brexit referendum because parliament will probably fail to agree on a divorce deal and the public will need to break the deadlock.
Less than four months before Britain is due to leave the EU, Prime Minister Theresa May called off a parliamentary vote on her deal with Brussels this week after admitting it would be heavily defeated.
Addressing EU leaders meeting in Brussels, Blair said they should offer to reform the bloc to make it more attractive for Britain to remain.
“Now should be the time of preparation – parliament to make sure it can canvass the options in (a) sensible manner, one by one, to reach agreement on an option or a referendum; Europe to ensure that if Britain is ready to think again, Europe is ready also to think again,” Blair, who was Labour prime minister from 1997 to 2007, will say in a speech in London.
Blair’s office released extracts of the speech in advance.
An offer by the EU to reform would show “that the political leadership of Europe and Britain had listened to the underlying concerns of those who voted (for) Brexit, not disrespecting the concerns but meeting them in a way which is not damaging.”
Blair has repeatedly called for reversing Brexit since the 2016 referendum, echoing other critics, including French President Emmanuel Macron, who have suggested Britain could still change its mind.
Blair will say it is perverse that the Britain and the EU are preparing for a potentially economically damaging Brexit without any deal, but not another referendum.
“We know the options for Brexit. Parliament will have to decide on one of them. If Parliament can’t then it should decide to go back to the people.”