A federal judge on Tuesday vacated the military conviction of Bowe Bergdahl, the former U.S. Army soldier who pleaded guilty to desertion after he left his post and was captured in Afghanistan. The ruling from Senior Judge Reggie Walton, of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., says that the military judge who oversaw Bergdahl’s court-martial created a potential conflict of interest by failing to disclose he had applied to the executive branch for a job as an immigration judge.
Bergdahl, who previously had attempted to join the French Foreign Legion, deserted his post in Afghanistan in June 2009. He was captured and held by the Taliban for five years, prompting a massive manhunt that involved hundreds of U.S. troops.
American soldiers were wounded while hunting for Bergdahl. One was shot in the head, and later died from his injuries. Bergdahl was retrieved by the U.S. in 2014 in exchange for five members of the Taliban. The incident sparked a firestorm in national politics and within the military.
Elements of the case have been described in multiple court filings, including a 2020 military opinion after Bergdahl appealed his conviction.
The latest action has brought swift response from the military community, particularly among those who were affiliated at the time with U.S. Central Command.
“I hope they still hold him accountable for his actions then, whether it merits a re-trial or other actions,” said John Wagner, a former member of the Bergdahl recovery effort. “And that they do not re-adjudicate his service separation status.”
Attorney Eugene Fidell, who represented Bergdahl, said Tuesday that his legal team is studying the opinion. He added that Bergdahl would not issue a statement.