A U.S. Army sergeant and former prisoner of war accused of endangering fellow troops by abandoning his post in Afghanistan has asked President Barack Obama to pardon him before leaving office next month.
If granted, the clemency request by lawyers for Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, first reported Friday by The New York Times, would avert a court-martial set for April in which military prosecutors are set to present evidence of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.
Bergdahl was stationed in the Afghan province of Paktia when he left his post without permission in 2009. He was subsequently captured by allies of the Taliban and held captive for five years.
The Obama administration secured his release in a prisoner swap that touched off a firestorm of criticism from Republicans in Congress. Some lawmakers accused the administration of aiding a deserter and complained that Congress did not receive a required 30-day warning about the transfer of foreign prisoners in U.S. custody who were freed in exchange for Bergdahl's release.
Bergdahl's lawyers said their client walked away from his post to warn officers at another base about problems in his unit.
The pardon request came seven weeks before President-elect Donald Trump — a vocal critic of the prisoner swap — takes office. During his campaign, Trump repeatedly criticized the deal, at one point calling Bergdahl "a no-good traitor who should have been executed."
"Thirty years ago, he would have been shot," Trump told cheering supporters at an October campaign rally in Las Vegas.