U.S. Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl admitted to walking away from an Afghanistan outpost in 2009 and is awaiting a general court-martial.
In October, Trump told supporters at a Las Vegas rally, “We’re tired of Sgt. Bergdahl, who’s a traitor, a no-good traitor, who should have been executed”
He continued to say that thirty years ago Bergdahl would have been shot for his offense.
In March of 2015, Bergdahl was officially charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.
According to the Army, there have been about 20,000 desertions since 2006 but the Army has only prosecuted 1,900 soldiers.
The charge of desertion falls under Article 85 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and states:
“Any person found guilty of desertion or attempt to desert shall be punished, if the offense is committed in time of war, by death or such other punishment as a court-martial may direct…”
But a sentence of death has only been carried out once since the Civil War – when Pvt. Eddie Slovik went before a firing squad during World War II.
During WWII there were over 21,000 American soldiers sentenced for desertion and 49 were sentenced to death – but Slovik was the only one actually executed.
Bergdahl’s attorneys believe that Trump’s statements hurt any chance of Bergdahl receiving a fair trial.
During an Iowa Trump rally in December, Trump said, “Let’s fly him over [the Middle East]. We’ll dump him right in the middle; throw him out of the plane. Should we give him a parachute or not? I say no.”
The attorneys allege that Trump is spreading false information that could sway the public’s opinion – making it difficult to find an un-bias jury.
Rachel VanLandingham, an associate law professor at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles and former Air Force lawyer, said she doubts the trial judge would rule in the favor of Bergdahl’s attorneys.
The defense attorneys will be able to question potential jurors about Trump’s statements and ask the judge to remove any who admit biases.
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