“Serial” star to face court-martial

serial-social-logoDays before the release of the next installment of the podcast “Serial,” the U.S. Army announced that the show’s subject, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, will face a court-martial.

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.

Eugene Fidell, Franklin D. Rosenblatt, Bowe Bergdahl
Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, left, defense counsel Lt. Col. Franklin D. Rosenblatt, center, and lead defense counsel Eugene Fidell sit during a preliminary hearing to determine if Sgt. Bergdahl will be court martialed. Bergdahl, who left his post in Afghanistan and was held by the Taliban for five years, is charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. (AP Photo/Brigitte Woosley)

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.


Channeling my inner “beast”

Late last week, I was tasked with covering Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s Article 32 hearing for The Daily Beast. Bergdahl, 29, left his post in Afghanistan in 2009, was subsequently captured by the Taliban, and spent five years in captivity.

Bowe Bergdahl, courtesy of Army/Reuters
Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, courtesy of Army/Reuters

President Barack Obama traded five Taliban prisoners for Bergdahl in 2014. Amid rumors that Bergdahl had assisted the Taliban and left his post on his own accord, he was charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy in March.

The Article 32 hearing is a preliminary proceeding, after which the Army will determine whether or not to court-martial Bergdahl. Check out my coverage of the two-day proceeding here:

Can Bowe Bergdahl get a fair trial after publicly being called a traitor? 

Day 1: Bowe Bergdahl’s commanders detail their frantic, dangerous search

Day 2: Grieving parents: Jail Bowe Bergdahl