U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl pleaded guilty on Monday to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy after leaving his post in Afghanistan in 2009 and being held by the Taliban for five years.
Bergdahl, 31, appeared before a judge at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. He faces life in prison.
“I left my observation post on my own,” Bergdahl told the judge, according to CNN. “I understand leaving was against the law.”
“At the time, I had no thoughts anyone would come searching for me, however looking back I see it was a very obvious mistake,” Bergdahl told the judge, according to ABC News. “I believed they would notice me missing, but I didn’t think they would pull off a crucial mission to look for one private.”
Bergdahl was released in 2014 in a prisoner swap with the Taliban.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Bergdahl Was Captured By the Taliban in 2009 After Leaving His Army Post in Afghanistan
Bergdahl was captured in Paktika province in Afghanistan on the Pakistan border after he left his U.S. Army post in 2009. He was serving with the 501st Parachute Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, based out of Alaska.
Bergdahl was born in Sun Valley, Idaho, in 1986. His father, Robert Bergdahl, said he was obsessed with the reality adventure TV show “Man Vs. Wild.”
“This became his role model,” his father told Rolling Stone. “He is Bear Grylls in his own mind.”
In an email to his parents before leaving his post, Bergdahl wrote:
The future is too good to waste on lies. And life is way too short to care for the damnation of others, as well as to spend it helping fools with their ideas that are wrong. I have seen their ideas and I am ashamed to even be american. The horror of the self-righteous arrogance that they thrive in. It is all revolting.
2. Bergdahl Was Released in 2014 In a Prisoner Swap With the Taliban
Bergdahl was released by the Taliban after five years in captivity in exchange for the release of five prisoners being held at Guantanamo prison. While the military is committed to leaving no man behind, many criticized the prisoner swap.
Former Rep. Buck McKeon, then chairman of the HOuse Armed Services Committee said that “everyone who wears the uniform should be returned,” but said that “the explanations we’ve received from the White House … were misleading, and at times, blatantly false. This transfer sets a dangerous precedent of negotiating with terrorists.”
The Obama administration defended the decision to release the prisoners in exchange for Bergdahl.
“We made the right decision, and we did it for the right reasons,” then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Congress in 2014.
“The president’s decision to move forward with the transfer of these detainees was a tough call, but I support it and stand by it,” Hagel said.
3. The Deaths of Several Soldiers Have Been Linked to the Search for Bergdahl
The deaths of six soldiers serving in Afghanistan have been linked to the search for Bergdahl after he went missing and was captured. These claims have never been verified by the U.S. military.
In 2014, then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam veteran, told reporters during a NATO meeting in Brussels: “I do not know of specific circumstances or details of U.S. soldiers dying as a result of efforts to find and rescue Sergeant Bergdahl.”
Former Army Sgt. Evan Buetow, who was Bergdahl’s team leader in Afghanistan, told CNN: “I can’t say for a fact and I don’t know if there is really anyone who can prove that soldiers died on a directed mission to find Bergdahl. However, every mission, especially in the following two or more months — those were directed missions. Everything after that, they were still missions that were in search of Bergdahl.”
4. Bergdahl Was the Subject of a ‘Serial’ Podcast in 2016
In early 2016, the popular podcast “Serial” focused its second season on Bergdahl’s story. Episode One begins with Bergdahl leaving the base:
In the middle of the night, Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl grabs a notebook, snacks, water, some cash. Then he quietly slips off a remote U.S. Army outpost in eastern Afghanistan and into the dark, open desert. About 20 minutes later, it occurs to him: he’s in over his head.
The season was controversial, with critics saying they were glorifying a military deserter and others questioning the timing of the podcast ahead of his trial.
5. President Donald Trump Called Bergdahl a Traitor Who Should Be Executed
President Donald Trump has called Bergdahl a “traitor” and said he should be executed.
“We’re tired of Sgt. Bergdahl, who’s a traitor, a no-good traitor, who should have been executed,” Trump said during a campaign rally in Las Vegas in 2015. “Thirty years ago he would have been shot.”
Bergdahl said those comments, which Trump made on the campaign trail, prevent him from getting a fair trial.
“We may as well go back to kangaroo courts and lynch mobs that got what they wanted,” Bergdahl told a British filmaker in a recent interview obtained by ABC News. “The people who want to hang me — you’re never going to convince those people.”
Bergdahl denies that he was working with the Taliban or wanted to join the terrorist group.
“You know, it’s just insulting, frankly,” Bergdahl said. “It’s very insulting, the idea that they would think I did that.”