LONDON — Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who spent five years a captive of the Taliban after abandoning his army base in Afghanistan, has said returning home to the U.S. was as tough as his time as a hostage.
The former prisoner of war, who earlier this week pleaded guilty to desertion and misbehavior-before-the-enemy charges, told Britain's Sunday Times newspaper that his homecoming was difficult because his case had become political.
“At least the Taliban were honest enough to say, ‘I’m the guy who’s gonna cut your throat,’” he told the paper. “Here, it could be the guy I pass in the corridor who’s going to sign the paper that sends me away for life.”
Bergdahl’s fate is now in the hands of a military judge after he admitted guilt to charges leveled against him, without striking a deal with prosecutors on Monday. He faces a possible life sentence.
President Barack Obama brought the soldier home in 2014 in a swap for five Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, saying the U.S. does not leave its service members on the battlefield.
But Republicans roundly criticized Obama and President Donald Trump went further while campaigning for president, repeatedly saying Bergdahl deserved to be executed by firing squad or thrown from a plane without a parachute.
In the interview, Bergdahl said he was aware that Trump had called him a “dirty rotten traitor” who should be shot, and that Trump had mocked him for having “psychological problems.”
“He’s a politician,” Bergdahl told The Sunday Times, “but I know I can’t convince the people who say, ‘Just string him up and shoot him.’ So you just move on.”
Asked whether such comments hurt, the soldier replied: “Yes it does.”
Bergdahl, now 31, walked off his remote post in Afghanistan in 2009 with the intention of reaching other commanders and drawing attention to what he saw as problems in his unit.
But shortly after leaving the base Bergdahl got lost and was kidnapped by the Taliban who imprisoned him for five years — for three of which he was forced to live in a metal cage.
Bergdahl, who tried to escape his captors on several occasions, told the newspaper that he reached a point in captivity when he was no longer afraid of dying.
“I thought I could either die here or die escaping. Either way I was a dead man,” he said, “it wasn’t a case of being scared of dying. It was a case of embracing the fact that I was a dead man.”