MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
The long drama around Bowe Bergdahl seems to be over. Bergdahl is the Army sergeant who abandoned his front-line post in Afghanistan in 2009. He says he left to report leadership problems to a senior officer on another base, a base he never reached. On his way, he was captured by the Taliban and was held in near total solitary confinement for five years. Bergdahl was released in a controversial prisoner swap in 2014 back under the Obama administration.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
In military court, Bergdahl pleaded guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. He could have spent the rest of his life in prison. Well, today, the sentence came down - a reduction in rank, dishonorable discharge, but no prison time. President Trump has been a longtime critic of Bergdahl, and in a tweet he called that sentence a complete and total disgrace. I asked Bergdahl's defense attorney, Eugene Fidell, how he would respond to the president's words.
EUGENE FIDELL: I would say the same thing to him. He's supposed to be a defender of the Constitution, and he has proved to be the exact opposite. And he keeps doing it. Today's tweets, because he's apparently unhappy with the administration of justice in this case, just add to the case for unlawful command influence. There is real grave concern about his fitness for the job if he can't figure out that it's not for him to fault the proceedings of a federal court.
SHAPIRO: In the court today, the judge read the verdict without getting into reasons for the sentence. What do you believe persuaded him not to give Bergdahl time behind bars?
FIDELL: I would have to assume it was in recognition of the nearly five years that Sergeant Bergdahl was a captive under brutal conditions of the Taliban, the Haqqani network, as well as the unlawful command influence that had previously been committed by President Trump.
SHAPIRO: Statements that President Trump made leading up to the trial.
FIDELL: Yes. President Trump, when he was a candidate, repeatedly called my client a traitor. And then after he became president, really just the other day, he reconfirmed what he said.
SHAPIRO: There were several service members who were seriously wounded when the search for Bergdahl was going on. Army Sergeant Mark Allen was shot in the head. He lost part of his brain. He's now paralyzed and unable to speak. Many people are going to be angry today on behalf of those who are injured. What do you say to those who feel that Bergdahl serving no prison time in the United States is unfair?
FIDELL: The first thing I would say is Sergeant Bergdahl is extremely sad that anyone was injured in the effort to find him and save him from captivity. He spoke very feelingly in the trial. He pleaded guilty, and he did so without the protection of a pretrial agreement. And anyone who sat through the trial would know how contrite he is and how appalled he is that any of these heroes sustained wounds.
SHAPIRO: What will the rest of his life be like?
FIDELL: I don't know. I think he's entitled to, after the harsh glare of publicity for such a prolonged period, to some quiet time and time to gather his thoughts and let him plan out the next chapter. He's a man who's basically been restored to life. One of the things that people may not be fully aware of is the kinds of efforts that he made to survive in captivity, to escape would - he made a number of escape attempts. His behavior was totally consistent with the code of conduct that governs U.S. military personnel. And it showed great courage, to be perfectly honest. Where the path leads we'll see.
SHAPIRO: Eugene Fidell, defense attorney for Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who was demoted today to private, speaking with us on Skype. Thanks so much.
FIDELL: My pleasure. Thanks for calling. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.