When many people first heard the story of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl walking away from his post, and into the hands of the Taliban, their thoughts immediately turned to labeling him a traitor. However, as followers of the popular Serial podcast have heard over the past couple of months, the true story may be much more complicated. As the date of Sgt. Bergdahl's court-martial nears, will we ever know what really happened, and why he did what he did?
The undisputed facts are limited. Bowe Bergdahl is an Army Sergeant from Sun Valley, Idaho. In 2008, he enlisted in the U.S. army, and by 2009, he was deployed to Afghanistan. He was stationed at Combat Outpost Mest-Malak near the border with Pakistan. Within a couple of months, he had left his post in the middle of the night, and was eventually captured by the Taliban. For the next five years, he was reportedly held captive by the Taliban. In 2014, Bergdahl was released in exchange for five Guantanamo Bay detainees. He continues to wait for his day in court as his court-martial proceeding has been delayed.
The second season of the podcast Serial marks the first time the public has heard from Bergdahl himself, through a series of taped interviews with filmmaker Mark Boal. While the outspoken GOP candidate Donald Trump has labeled Bergdahl, “a no-good traitor, who should have been executed,” listeners to the podcast see a different side of the story. According to one journalist, far from being a Taliban sympathizer, “Bowe Bergdahl sounds a lot like other rank-and-file soldiers.”
As Bergdahl told Boal in his series of taped interviews, he left his post to bring attention to poor leadership within his unit, which he believed could endanger his fellow soldiers. However, shortly after he left his outpost, he was having second thoughts about his plan, and thought things would be better for him if he sought out some key intelligence on the Taliban to give the military when he reached his goal, a larger nearby U.S. military outpost.
"I had this fantastic idea that I was going to prove to the world that I was the real thing," Bergdahl said in his interview. “You know, that I could be what it is that all those guys out there that go to the movies and watch those movies -- they all want to be that -- but I wanted to prove I was that."
Instead of returning as a real-life Jason Bourne, Bergdahl was captured and taken prisoner by the Taliban. According to Bergdahl's defense attorneys, a prison sentence would be inappropriate for the young man who has already endured five years of torture, at times chained to a bed, locked in a cage and held in a pitch black room.
After an Article 32 hearing on Bergdahl's case, the presiding officer recommended a special court-martial. Instead, Gen. Robert Abrams ordered the case to a general court-martial, breaking from the preliminary recommendation. He now faces two charges, desertion under Article 85, and misbehavior before the enemy under Article 99. During the hearing, Bergdahl did not enter a plea to the charges. If found guilty, Sgt. Bergdahl could face ten or more years in prison.
While the Serial podcast continues to air, giving listeners insight into Sgt. Bergdahl's side of the story, the court-martial proceedings have been stayed. Before the case can continue, an appeals court will have to determine whether to give classified evidence to Bergdahl's defense lawyers. His defense team says they've received less than 1% of the classified evidence related to his case. The trial is currently scheduled for August, to be held at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Season two, episode 8, part 2 of the Serial podcast was released on Saturday, February 19th. Continuing podcasts are scheduled to be released approximately every two weeks.