Thursday will bring the second episode in Season Two (Season One, which won a Peabody Award, explored the death of Hae Min Lee). In a promo, narrator Sarah Koenig said it features “the Taliban’s version” of how they captured Bergdahl – who’d walked away from his post in Afghanistan in 2009 – and kept him captive for five years.
Bergdahl faces charges of “desertion with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty” and “misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit or place.” A preliminary hearing officer recommended that Bergdahl should not face jail time for his offenses, although he could face up to life imprisonment.
In the first episode, Bergdahl speaks to screenwriter Mark Boal about his escape, describing at first unrealistic self-confidence. Others might strive to be a perfect soldier, “but I wanted to prove that I was that,” he told Boal.
Bergdahl said he left his base to alert Army leadership to what he saw as ineptness that endangered soldiers’ lives. Then came doubt and defeat, and a change of plans – he searched for someone making an IED so he could have something to offset the “hurricane of wrath” he anticipated once he reached superiors. He strayed from his plan for too long, he said.
Motorcyclists then surrounded Bergdahl, who said there was “nowhere to go except Taliban.” For days, U.S. troops searched feverishly for him, at times risking their lives.
Some of Bergdahl’s statements to Boal repeat a narrative from a September hearing in San Antonio. But Bergdahl didn’t speak at the hearing, and the podcast is the first people have heard of the soldier (which is a big deal for the dozen-or-so reporters like me who sat in the hearing wishing we could read his mind).
Bergdahl was released in a prisoner swap and welcomed home in 2014, only to be criticized after rumors swirled that he’d deserted. After he was debriefed, Bergdahl relocated to San Antonio’s Fort Sam Houston, and was charged in March. Before the two-day September hearing, Bergdahl’s lawyers wondered how months of bad press and politicalization might affect the case.
Upon the release of the first episode, Bergdahl’s lawyer Eugene R. Fidell told The Associated Press that the more the public could hear Bergdahl in his own words, the better.
But days later, as the court-martial was announced, Fidell was again peeved by publicity. He wrote in a December 14 statement:
We again ask that Donald Trump cease his prejudicial months-long campaign of defamation against our client. We also ask that the House and Senate Armed Services Committees avoid any further statement for actions that prejudice our client’s right to a fair trial.