Bergh­dahl mis­sion fin­ished SEAL’s ca­reer

In­jured dur­ing search op­er­a­tion af­ter sol­dier’s al­leged post de­ser­tion

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY JONATHAN DREW

FORT BRAGG, N.C. | A for­mer Navy SEAL tes­ti­fied Wed­nes­day that his mil­i­tary ca­reer ended when he was shot in the leg dur­ing a hastily planned mis­sion to find Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl af­ter the sol­dier left his post in Afghanistan.

Re­tired Se­nior Chief Petty Of­fi­cer James Hatch told the judge that his team had about 90 min­utes to plan their mis­sion and board he­li­copters af­ter re­ceiv­ing in­for­ma­tion about Sgt. Bergdahl’s pur­ported where­abouts shortly af­ter he dis­ap­peared in 2009.

While pur­su­ing en­emy fighters on foot, Mr. Hatch was hit by fire from an AK-47. Mr. Hatch says he sur­vived be­cause mem­bers of his team quickly ap­plied a tourni­quet while wait­ing for a med­i­cal he­li­copter.

“They saved me from bleed­ing to death for sure,” he tes­ti­fied dur­ing the pre­trial hear­ing.

Mr. Hatch, who en­tered the court­room with a ser­vice dog and a limp, said he’s had 18 surg­eries be­cause of the wound.

Also on Wed­nes­day, the mil­i­tary judge told de­fense at­tor­neys they can ask po­ten­tial mil­i­tary jurors about Pres­i­dent Trump on a lengthy writ­ten ques­tion­naire.

De­fense lawyers have ar­gued that Mr. Trump’s crit­i­cism of Sgt. Bergdahl will pre­vent him from get­ting a fair trial on charges of de­ser­tion and mis­be­hav­ior be­fore the en­emy.

Pros­e­cu­tors want to use the in­juries to Mr. Hatch and oth­ers as ev­i­dence dur­ing sen­tenc­ing if Sgt. Bergdahl is con­victed.

The judge, Col. Jef­fery Nance, al­ready ruled that the in­jury ev­i­dence can’t be used dur­ing the guilt-or-in­no­cence phase of the trial sched­uled for Oc­to­ber.

A le­gal scholar not in­volved in the case, Eric Car­pen­ter, said the de­ci­sion on the in­juries could be piv­otal.

“This ev­i­dence has al­ready been ex­cluded from the guilt phase of the trial, and if it is ex­cluded dur­ing the sen­tenc­ing phase, the heart of the gov­ern­ment’s case will be gone,” said Mr. Car­pen­ter, a for­mer Army lawyer who teaches law at Flor­ida In­ter­na­tional Univer­sity. “This might make the gov­ern­ment more re­cep­tive to a deal.”

De­fense at­tor­ney Eu­gene Fidell de­clined to say af­ter the hear­ing whether his client is in­ter­ested in a plea bar­gain.

The topic also came up dur­ing the hear­ing. De­fense at­tor­neys asked the judge to rule that any al­leged de­ser­tion ended when Sgt. Bergdahl was cap­tured by the Tal­iban hours af­ter he left the re­mote post.

They say the de­ter­mi­na­tion is needed so they can ad­vise their client on how to plead to the de­ser­tion charge.

“We need to know so we can tell Sgt. Bergdahl what the con­se­quences are,” Mr. Fidell told the judge.

Col. Nance re­sponded that Sgt. Bergdahl can choose to plead guilty to the lesser of­fense of unau­tho­rized ab­sence, or AWOL, but that pros­e­cu­tors could con­tinue pur­su­ing the more se­ri­ous de­ser­tion charge if they weren’t sat­is­fied.

The judge said he would rule later on the de­fense’s ar­gu­ments about the du­ra­tion of Sgt. Bergdahl’s ab­sence.

The judge also said he would rule later on a motion to dis­miss the mis­be­hav­ior-be­fore-theen­emy charge, which could land Sgt. Bergdahl in prison for life.

De­fense at­tor­neys say pros­e­cu­tors chose the wrong build­ing blocks for the of­fense be­cause the ac­tions cited in the charge wouldn’t be in­de­pen­dently crim­i­nal, an ar­gu­ment that pros­e­cu­tors dis­pute.

Sgt. Bergdahl left his re­mote post in Afghanistan in 2009 and sub­se­quently was held by the Tal­iban and its al­lies for about five years. The mil­i­tary probe of Sgt. Bergdahl be­gan soon af­ter he was freed from cap­tiv­ity on May 31, 2014, in ex­change for five Tal­iban pris­on­ers.

Sgt. Bergdahl, who has been as­signed to desk duty at a Texas Army base, has said he walked off his post to cause alarm and draw at­ten­tion to what he saw as prob­lems with his unit.


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