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 urges US, Europe to ‘go further’ in countering Russia

Updated 21 August 2018
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Britain urges US, Europe to ‘go further’ in countering Russia

  • ‘The established rules of international conduct are repeatedly being flouted by major countries like Russia’
  • ‘Of course we must engage with Moscow, but we must also be blunt: Russia’s foreign policy under President Putin has made the world a more dangerous place’

WASHINGTON: New British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt on Tuesday will urge the US and European countries to do more to call out Russia’s “malign behavior” and keep Vladimir Putin in check, notably by implementing tough sanctions.
“The established rules of international conduct are repeatedly being flouted by major countries like Russia,” Hunt was to say in Washington, in his first major policy speech since succeeding Boris Johnson in July.
“Such aggressive and malign behavior undermines the international order that keeps us safe,” Hunt was to tell an audience at the US Institute of Peace, a nonpartisan think tank, according to excerpts provided by the Foreign Office.
“Of course we must engage with Moscow, but we must also be blunt: Russia’s foreign policy under President Putin has made the world a more dangerous place.”
London has blamed the March poisoning in southwestern England of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia — using a Soviet-made nerve agent — on Moscow, plunging the two countries into a diplomatic crisis.
A number of Western countries have punished Moscow by expelling Russian diplomats in a coordinated manner. Some have gone further, with other punitive measures.
Those come on top on sanctions already in place over Russia’s annexation of Crimea or Moscow’s interference in foreign elections, notably in the 2016 presidential vote in the US.
Hunt, who is to meet on Wednesday with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, will ask London’s allies to do more.
“Today, the United Kingdom asks its allies to go further by calling on the European Union to ensure its sanctions against Russia are comprehensive, and that we truly stand shoulder to shoulder with the US,” Hunt will say, according to the excerpts.
“That means calling out and responding to transgressions with one voice whenever and wherever they occur, from the streets of Salisbury to the fate of Crimea.”
The administration of US President Donald Trump has been firm with Moscow, regularly announcing new sanctions over the Skripal case, but that message is sometimes muddied by American leader’s willingness to improve ties with Putin.
At his July summit with the Russian leader in Helsinki, Trump appeared to be rather conciliatory toward his counterpart, shortly after raising hackles at a NATO summit in Brussels with his contrarian stance.
That earned the president widespread criticism at home, even angering many in his own Republican Party.
For Hunt, NATO’s “credibility” has taken a hit.
“Those who do not share our values need to know that there will always be a serious price to pay if red lines are crossed — whether territorial incursions, the use of banned weapons or, increasingly, cyberattacks,” he was to warn.
Hunt will also seek to carry a tough message to Europe on the subject of Brexit, warning that a no deal departure could threaten the continent’s unity for a generation, according to his office.
“One of the biggest threats to European unity would be a chaotic no-deal Brexit,” he was to say.
Hunt, who replaced Johnson last month amid discord over how London should handle Brexit, was to say Britain would manage — “we have faced many greater challenges in our history” — but the European Union would suffer a serious blow.
“The risk of a messy divorce... would be a fissure in relations between European allies that would take a generation to heal — a geostrategic error for Europe at an extremely vulnerable time in our history,” he was to say.
A deal on Britain’s divorce from the bloc — which both sides want to strike by late October, with an eye toward a formal separation on March 29, 2019 — is still up in the air, with Brussels sticking to its red lines.