U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl suffers significant nerve damage as a result of malnutrition and torture while he was a prisoner of the Taliban after being captured in Afghanistan when he deserted his post in June 2009, defense witnesses said.
The 31-year-old Bergdahl faces a possible sentence of life in prison after pleading guilty last month to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. His defense this week has called a lineup of witnesses, including coworkers and military medical experts, in an effort to persuade a military judge not to send him to prison.
Lieutenant Colonel Allen Larsen, a battalion surgeon who has examined the Idaho native, testified on Tuesday that Bergdahl suffers nerve damage. He attributed it to a poor diet fed to him by his Taliban captors during his years of imprisonment, as well as torture in which lit matches were held to the soles of his feet.
Larsen described the damage as akin to that seen in U.S. soldiers held as Japanese prisoners of war during World War Two. He said Bergdahl will likely continue to feel some pain in his feet for the rest of his life.
“I think his pain is as good as it’s going to get, and it’s going to remain that way,” Larsen said by telephone from Afghanistan.
Bergdahl’s lawyers are due to call three more witnesses on Wednesday. After their testimony concludes, the judge in the case, Army Colonel Jeffery Nance, will begin deliberating his sentence.
Bergdahl was released in a 2014 Taliban prisoner swap brokered by Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration.
During last year’s presidential campaign, Republican candidate Donald Trump called Bergdahl “a no-good traitor who should have been executed.” Nance has ruled that the comments by Trump, now president and commander in chief, had not affected the fairness of the court proceeding, but said he will consider them a mitigating factor.
Prosecutors last week called multiple witnesses, including service members who described the hazards they faced in multiple hastily organized missions to rescue Bergdahl. Several were badly injured, including Master Sergeant Mark Allen, who was shot in the head, leaving him unable to speak or walk.
(Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)