This week, Army Col. Jeffery Nance ruled that prior comments from Senator John McCain did not influence the decision to prosecute Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for his 2009 disappearance from a remote Army base in Afghanistan. The decision comes following Bergdahl's lawyers' assertion that there has been institutional pressure and bias to charge Bergdahl after his 2014 rescue from Taliban operatives.
As The Hill reports, Judge Nance wrote in his decision that General Robert Abrams was not unduly influenced by controversial comments that Senator John McCain made last year to a Boston Herald reporter. "...Gen. Abrams was not affected by those comments and did not consider them in making his decision as to the disposition of the charges against SGT Bergdahl," Nance's decision reads. "In fact, Gen. Abrams thought the comments were inappropriate and that Sen. McCain should not have made them."
Nance also ruled that McCain's comments did not constitute "unlawful command influence." McCain retired from active duty in 1981, but Bergdahl's team had tried to argue that he continued to influence Army decisions as head of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "A reasonable member of the public knowing all the fact and circumstances would recognize Sen. McCain’s ill-advised statement for just what they were," Nance writes, "political posturing designed to embarrass a political opponent (President Obama) and gain some political advantage."
McCain's comments have been a source of much debate in the Bergdahl's case. Speaking with a reporter last October, he said that, in the event that Bergdahl was acquitted of his charges, he would use his authority as head Senate Armed Services Committee to exact some kind of punishment. "I am not prejudging, O.K., but it is well known that in the searches for Bergdahl, after—we know now—he deserted, there are allegations that some American soldiers were killed or wounded, or at the very least put their lives in danger, searching for what is clearly a deserter. We need to have a hearing on that," he told the Boston Herald.
Because McCain's committee confirms military nominations, Bergdahl's lawyers had argued that his comments were a veiled threat to the careers of Army commanders in charge of deciding whether or not to press charges against Bergdahl—and a violation of Bergdahl's right to a fair trial. Bergdahl stands accused of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. His court-martial has been delayed until February 2017. Attorney Jordan has commented on McCain’s comments before on this blog, which can be found here.
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