This week, the U.S. Army announced that the court-martial of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will take place between August 8 and August 19 later this year. The scheduling of the trial comes at a time when public interest in Bergdahl's case has never been higher as his story continues to unfold on the popular investigative podcast, "Serial."
Bergdahl is charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy after walking off his post in Afghanistan and being captured by Taliban operatives in 2009. Bergdahl was held for five years and freed in 2014 during a controversial trade for Taliban prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. Since his capture, there been much speculation to what Bergdahl's time with the Taliban was actually like and if in fact he betrayed his fellow soldiers by cooperating with his captors.
THE SERIAL PODCAST
"Serial" debuted in October 2014. It is an NPR-affiliated program produced by journalists Sara Koenig (who also hosts the show) and Julie Snyder. In its first season, the podcast revisited the mysterious 1999 murder of a Baltimore high schooler and immediately grabbed the attention of millions of listeners nationwide. In its highly-anticipated second season, Koenig and Snyder decided to investigate Bergdahl's already controversial case.
Season two also brings new collaborators to "Serial." Interview audio with Bergdahl (some of the first ever released to the public) is conducted by screenwriter Mark Boal (Zero Dark Thirty, The Hurt Locker), who is currently directing on a documentary on Bergdahl. Megan Ellison and her production company Annapurna Pictures (Zero Dark Thirty, Foxcatcher, American Hustle) are also credited as producers of the new season.
THE EARLY SEASON 2 EPISODES
As of the Army's scheduling of court-martial, there have been four episodes of “Serial” season 2. In them, we hear from Bergdahl, his fellow soldiers, Army officials who searched for him, experts, other Taliban prisoners, and even the Taliban themselves in the effort to account for Bergdahl's time in captivity.
- Episode 1, "DUSTWUN," provides a cursory review of the Bergdahl case and confronts Bergdahl's decision to leave his post in 2009. According to Bergdahl, he wanted to trigger a "DUSTWUN" manhunt by hiking to another Army base and expose what he felt were unacceptable leadership decisions happening at his outpost.
- Episode 2, "The Golden Chicken," explores the days and weeks following Bergdahl's disappearance and the hardships, fatigue, and tactical challenges other Army units faced in the unrelenting search to find him. In one startling admission, a fellow servicemember recalls the sentiment that soldiers wanted to find Bergdahl so they could kill him themselves.
- Episode 3, "Escaping," tells the story of Bergdahl's first year in captivity and the lengths his captors went to keep his position secret and mobile. Bergdahl made two escape attempts in that first year and even while his second was partially successful (and left him starving and languishing in the desert), he was recaptured.
- Episode 4, "The Captors," details Bergdahl's impression of his captors, what they appeared to want from him, and how they treated him. He recounts the isolation and torture he was regularly subjected to, along with inhumane conditions in which he was kept. Serial also speaks with David Rohde, a journalist who was also held by the Haqqani network around the same time as Bergdahl and reports much better treatment.
SERIAL & THE CHARGES AGAINST BERGDAHL
There's still much more “Serial” will undoubtedly cover in the rest of its season, but listeners can already start to piece together Bergdahl's side of the story and how it relates to his two charges: desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. In the first episode, Bergdahl seems painfully aware that he made an incredible mistake by leaving his post at Combat Outpost Mest-Lalak. He admits that it was wrong and that his belief that—even though he was breaking military law—he would ultimately be seen as heroic was foolish.
Bergdahl, however, maintains his innocence on the second (and more serious) charge: misbehavior before the enemy. According to Bergdahl, much of the questioning he went through during his captivity was wildly irrelevant to any kind of Taliban intelligence. He remembers being asked about whether prostitutes were kept on Army bases, whether all American women were all prostitutes, and why Americans were always drunk. Bergdahl did appear in several Taliban videos while under duress, but his participation at gunpoint is not expected to be part of the evidence against him.
There is, however, a persistent belief that Bergdahl is a Taliban sympathizer who helped enemy combatants plan deadly strikes against U.S. Armed Forces during his captivity. To truly clear up the confusion around Bergdahl's motivation for leaving his post, both the journalists of “Serial” and Bergdahl's defense counsel will have to confront the most elusive detail in Bergdahl's story so far: just what exactly was happening Combat Outpost Mest-Lalak that could convince him to leave.
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