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Bowe Bergdahl And The Troops Who Searched For Him Come Face-to-Face In Court

Attorneys for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl — Eugene R. Fidell, left, and Army Lt. Col. Franklin D. Rosenblatt — leave the Ft. Bragg military courthouse on Thursday in Ft. Bragg, N.C.
Sara D. Davis
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Attorneys for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl — Eugene R. Fidell, left, and Army Lt. Col. Franklin D. Rosenblatt — leave the Ft. Bragg military courthouse on Thursday in Ft. Bragg, N.C.

Former Army Specialist Jonathan Morita testified Thursday that his rifle was shot out of his grip, and his right hand was seriously injured, when a search for missing soldier Bowe Bergdahl turned into a firefight with the Taliban in July 2009.

Morita, dressed head-to-toe in black civilian clothes, also said he's been short-tempered since his injury, which still limits the use of his hand despite surgeries and years of rehabilitation.

That anger, he said, "is directed toward one person."

Morita didn't name the person. But when he was dismissed from the witness stand and walked out of the courtroom, Morita cast a withering stare at Army Sgt. Bergdahl, who was seated at the defendant's table in his dark blue Army uniform.

For the past two days, military prosecutors have called on several current and former service members who took part in searches for Bergdahl in the days immediately after he walked away from his military outpost in southeastern Afghanistan. He was then held by the Taliban for five years.

Bergdahl pleaded guilty to two charges last week, and the testimony this week is part of the sentencing hearing at a military court in Fort Bragg, N.C. The judge, Army Col. Jeffery Nance, has wide latitude and could give Bergdahl a sentence ranging from no prison time to life in prison.

The proceedings this week have brought Bergdahl face-to-face with those who searched for him, and in some cases were wounded. Bergdahl remains in active service, and is currently stationed in San Antonio.

The judge has identified three service members whose injuries are considered directly related to the search for Bergdahl.

On Wednesday, Senior Chief Petty Officer James Hatch, a Navy SEAL, described being shot and badly injured in the leg during a firefight while searching for Bergdahl. Hatch had to retire from the military and still walks with a heavy limp.

The third injured service member, Master Sgt. Mark Allen, was shot in the head during the same mission that injured Morita. Allen is paralyzed and unable to speak. His wife is expected to testify in court on Monday.

Air Force Lt. Col. John Marx, who led that mission, described the efforts to get Allen to safety. "I picked up Sgt. Allen and carried him to the helicopter," he said. "It was one of the hardest things I've ever done."

Some of Bergdahl's critics claim he was responsible for the deaths of several troops killed by the Taliban. But prosecutors have not presented any evidence directly linking Bergdahl's actions to any U.S. deaths.

They're highlighting the cases of Morita, Hatch and Allen in order to make the argument that Bergdahl deserves significant prison time because his actions caused these injuries and a major diversion of resources to look for him.

However, Bergdahl's lawyer, Maj. Oren Gleich, says, "The accused is not responsible for an endless chain of cause and effect." It was the Taliban that shot Allen, he said, and not Bergdahl.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: October 25, 2017 at 11:00 PM CDT
A previous photo caption incorrectly identified the soldier in the photo as Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. The soldier is Army Lt. Col. Franklin D. Rosenblatt, one of Bergdahl's lawyers.
Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.
Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.
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