Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl told a military judge on Monday that he’s pleading guilty to desertion and misbehaviour before the enemy.
“I understand that leaving was against the law,” Bergdahl said.
“At the time, I had no intention of causing search and recovery operations,” Bergdahl added, saying that now he does understand that his decision to walk off his remote post in Afghanistan in 2009 prompted efforts to find him.
Bergdahl, 31, is charged with endangering his comrades by walking away from his post. The misbehaviour charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison, while the desertion charge is punishable by up to five years.
The guilty pleas bring the highly politicised saga closer to an end eight years after his disappearance in Afghanistan set off search missions by scores of his fellow service members. President Barack Obama was criticised by Republicans for the 2014 Taliban prisoner swap that brought Bergdahl home, while President Donald Trump harshly criticised Bergdahl on the campaign trail.
The serious wounds to service members who searched for Bergdahl are still expected to play a role in his sentencing. Bergdahl’s five years of captivity by the Taliban and its allies also will likely factor into what punishment he receives.
The defence also brought up the fact that President Donald Trump had unfairly swayed the case with scathing criticism of Bergdahl, including suggestions of harsh punishment. The judge wrote in a February ruling that Trump’s campaign-trail comments were “disturbing and disappointing” but did not constitute unlawful command influence by the soon-to-be commander in chief.
The guilty pleas allow him to avoid a trial, but he still faces a sentencing hearing that’s expected to start on Oct. 23.