By Greg Lacour
FORT BRAGG, N.C. (Reuters) – U.S. Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl is a bright but naive soldier who suffers from several mental health conditions and is willing to break rules to do what he believes is right, a forensic psychiatrist testified on Wednesday.
The disorders played a role in Bergdahl’s decision to leave his post in Afghanistan in June 2009 and likely would be exacerbated if he is sent to prison, Dr. Charles Morgan III, who examined Bergdahl, said at the soldier’s sentencing hearing.
The 31-year-old sergeant faces up to life in confinement after pleading guilty last month to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. His defense this week has called witnesses intended to persuade a military judge to show leniency.
The Idaho native apologized from the stand for endangering fellow troops who searched for him after he ditched his duties to report what he said were problems in his chain of command. He was captured by the Taliban and held prisoner for five years.
“He was an idealistic young man who didn’t always sound everybody out on his plans,” Morgan said at the Fort Bragg military base in North Carolina. “He responds quickly, perhaps too fast, in trying to find solutions to a problem and acting on it.”
Morgan says Bergdahl has post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as schizotypal personality disorder, which includes anxiety, eccentric behavior and grandiose thinking; social phobia; and some cognitive deficits.
Some of those conditions existed when Bergdahl enlisted in the Army in 2008, Morgan said, pointing to a panic attack he had during Coast Guard boot camp in 2006 that resulted in his discharge. Captivity made them worse, the doctor said.
A 2014 Taliban prisoner swap brokered by the Democratic Obama administration won Bergdahl’s release.
Republican Donald Trump, during his successful campaign for the presidency last year, called Bergdahl “a no-good traitor who should have been executed.” Army Colonel Jeffery Nance, the presiding judge, has ruled that Trump’s comments have not affected the fairness of the court proceeding, but said he will consider them a mitigating factor.
Last week, service members testifying for the prosecution described the hazards they faced during hastily organized missions to rescue Bergdahl. Several were badly injured, including Master Sergeant Mark Allen, who was shot in the head, leaving him unable to speak or walk.
Bergdahl remains on active duty at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. Closing arguments in the sentencing proceedings are expected on Thursday.
(Writing by Scott Malone and Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Bill Trott and Alistair Bell)