Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was a ‘gold mine’ of intelligence, helping the military better understand insurgents and how they imprison hostages, two agents testified Tuesday as defense attorneys sought to show the soldier’s contributions since he was returned in a prisoner swap.
The testimony at Bergdahl’s sentencing was meant to counter prosecution evidence favoring stiff punishment, including several service members who testified about wounds they suffered on search missions after Bergdahl’s 2009 disappearance.
Bergdahl faces up to life in prison after pleading guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy for walking off his remote post in Afghanistan in 2009.
The Army judge has wide leeway to decide Bergdahl’s sentence because he didn’t strike a plea agreement with prosecutors.
Amber Dach, who spent 16 years in military intelligence, was the primary analyst assigned to Bergdahl’s case for the five years after he disappeared.
US Army Sergeant Beaudry Robert ‘Bowe’ Bergdahl enters the courthouse for the fifth day of sentencing proceedings in his court martial at Fort Bragg, North Carolina on Tuesday
Bergdahl faces up to life in prison after pleading guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy for walking off his remote post in Afghanistan in 2009
She described how eager he was to help intelligence officials at a hospital in Germany days after he was returned to US authorities.
Though his voice was weak and raspy, he helped authorities and even drew diagrams in his downtime to bring to his next debriefing session.
Dach and another official who debriefed Bergdahl both testified that his time in Germany was extended partly so he could offer additional time-sensitive intelligence.
‘He was very motivated to just download all of the details that he recalled,’ she testified.
Intelligence analyst Amber Dach leaves the Fort Bragg courtroom facility after testifying for the defense at Bergdahl’s sentencing hearing. Dach and another official who debriefed Bergdahl both testified that he offered time-sensitive intelligence
Terrence Russell of Joint Personnel Recovery Agency testified on Tuesday that Bergdahl provided invaluable information about survival training
Another witness, Audy Ellingson (above), who supervised Bergdahl’s current work as a clerk at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, said he has been reliable
‘It was a gold mine. It really reshaped the way we did intel collection in the area.’
An official from the military agency that helps reintegrate former captives and develops survival training for service members testified that information Bergdahl provided him was invaluable.
Terrence Russell, a division chief for the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, developed a 1,200-page transcript from debriefing Bergdahl that was turned into a database.
The information produced reports on tactics used by insurgents and hostage-takers in the region that are still used by the military.
Russell said he’d like to learn even more from Bergdahl but the soldier’s legal case has impeded that.
‘Can you give him to me tomorrow? I need him. I need him now,’ he said to a defense attorney.
‘The fact that I can’t get that information is wrong. I need that.’
He said he’d like to add Bergdahl to a roster of about 30 service members taken captive in recent conflicts dating to the Gulf War who can provide videos or lectures for military survival training.
‘We don’t have very many examples coming out of Afghanistan,’ he said.
He also reaffirmed his previous statements that Bergdahl’s captivity was worse than any American prisoner of war has experienced since the Vietnam era.
Before Bergdahl took the stand on Monday, Shannon Allen (pictured) described how her husband, Sgt Mark Allen, had suffered brain trauma after being attacked while searching for him
Allen was shot in the temple during the search. Shannon (pictured with her husband) wept in court as she described how her husband’s injury had completely transformed their lives
Allen was left unable to speak and is paralyzed over much of his body. Shannon told the court how he is unable to reach out and touch his daughter, who is now nine
On Monday, Bergdahl began the defense presentation by apologizing to those wounded searching for him.
He also described the brutal conditions he faced, including beatings with copper wire and unending bouts of gastrointestinal problems brought on by squalid conditions.
He said he was kept in a cage for four out of the five years in captivity after several escape attempts.
He said his muscles became so weak he could barely stand or walk.
Russell, who’s debriefed more than 100 former hostages and prisoners of war, said Bergdahl’s time in the cage was damaging psychologically because he was kept in isolation nearly the entire time.
‘They simply shut the door. Long-term isolation. Psychological abuse,’ he said.
‘It was extreme neglect. They just let him nearly rot inside that cage for four years.’
The defense showed the court images of a replica of the cage that Russell’s agency built, using Bergdahl’s sketches.
Russell uses it for survival training.
After walking off his post in 2009, Bergdahl (pictured) was held by the Taliban for five years and eventually released in a 2014 prisoner swap criticized by Republicans
Bergdahl’s squad leader when he deserted also testified for the defense, calling him an efficient soldier.
‘He executed quickly, efficiently – no back talk, no questions,’ said former Sergeant Greg Leatherman.
‘He wanted to go out and get bad guys.’
Under cross-examination, Leatherman added that Bergdahl complained a lot about the military hierarchy and that the unit was not aggressive enough against the Taliban.
‘He wasn’t sold on the mission we were fighting,’ Leatherman testified at the Fort Bragg military base in North Carolina.
Another witness, who supervised Bergdahl’s current work as a clerk at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, said he has been reliable.
JUDGE THROWS OUT TRUMP CLAIMS
Bergdahl’s lawyers tried to argue on Monday that criticism by President Donald Trump is preventing him from having a fair sentencing hearing.
Trump called for Bergdahl to be shot or thrown out of a plane without a parachute while running for election; he brought the comments back when Bergdahl pleaded on October 16.
Military judge Army Col Jeffery Nance rejected the argument, saying the court hasn’t been directly affected by Trump’s criticism of Bergdahl.
He also ruled that a reasonable member of the public would not have doubts about the fairness of military justice because of Trump’s comments.
The judge did say, however, that he would consider Trump’s comments as a mitigating factor in the sentencing.
‘There was less drama with Sergeant Bergdahl on a daily basis than most of the (non-commissioned officers) in our office,’ Audry Ellingson, Bergdahl’s former supervisor, testified.
Ellingson is a retired Army major who was serving in a civilian capacity at the time.
Multiple service members called as witnesses by prosecutors spoke of the hazardous conditions they faced in the futile search for Bergdahl, who says he deserted to report ‘critical problems’ in his chain of command.
Several soldiers fell ill or were badly injured during hastily organized missions to find him.
Master Sergeant Mark Allen, the most critically hurt, was shot in the head, leaving him unable to speak or walk.
Bergdahl, the 31-year-old soldier from Hailey, Idaho, was brought home by President Barack Obama in 2014 in a swap for five Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
Obama said at the time the US does not leave its service members on the battlefield.
Republicans roundly criticized Obama, and Donald Trump went further while campaigning for president, repeatedly calling Bergdahl a ‘dirty, rotten traitor’ who deserved to be executed by firing squad or thrown out of a plane without a parachute.
Bergdahl’s sentencing hearing is expected to last several more days.