The Serial Podcast, the most downloaded podcast of all time, proved in season two that Bowe Bergdahl is not a traitor. Serial was a breakout hit when its first season launched in October 2014. The first season examined the Adnan Syed story, which lead to Syed’s conviction being overturned. The podcast launched season 2 to eager fans worldwide in December 2015.
The second season was not as acclaimed, but covered a newsworthy and controversial topic. Sarah Koenig, the voice behind serial, is an investigative journalist turned podcast superstar. Her long-form, narrative journalism has been a hit.
Season 2 begins with Koenig’s description of the May 2014 release of Bowe Bergdahl. Bergdahl was captured in 2009 by the Taliban under previously unknown circumstances. Bergdahl explains to filmmaker Mark Boal of Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker that he intended to create a DUSTWUN. DUSTWUN stands for duty status whereabouts unknown, it is a radio signal the military uses when someone goes AWOL. Bergdahl explained that the leadership in his platoon was not only concerning, but dangerous, to the point Bergdahl thought his platoon would be sent on suicide missions. This type of thinking set Bergdahl apart from anyone else. Bergdahl’s mental health led to out of touch thinking that only he experienced.
Bergdahl’s plan was to leave his station OP (operation post) Mest in eastern Afghanistan and travel to FOB Sharana, a 24-hour hike. Bergdahl assumed once the DUSTWUN was set in motion, so many people would be alerted that he could voice his concerns to a high ranking officer without being ignored. On the hike, Bergdahl changes course. Lost, he is picked up by the Taliban without issue. He would spend nearly 5 years in confinement. Many see this as a rightful punishment for “dirty, rotten, Bergdahl” as Trump said.
Koenig, becoming a character in the story, as she does so well, is able to interview a Taliban member who recounts the capture and confinement of Bergdahl. The Taliban alleged that Bergdahl stumbled into a Nomad’s tent, which tipped off the Taliban. They also theorized Bergdahl was drunk, meeting up with a woman, or looking for drugs, all which were ruled out. The Taliban’s telling of Bergdahl’s capture contains wacky allegations, but some of the most scathing and false came from the US media.
Bergdahl’s time in confinement was nearly too terrible to comprehend. For five years he was beaten, tortured, starved, dehydrated, and forgotten. Bergdahl attempted escape twice, but was told he’d be killed if he attempted it again. Rumors swirled during Bergdahl’s confinement. Many alleged that he wanted to join the Taliban, became a Muslim, or that he was turning on his soldiers. All of these theories were debunked, but are still alleged today. In his interview with General Kenneth Dahl, Bergdahl reaffirmed he left to bring attention to the plight of his platoon. Bergdahl never intended for anyone to get hurt or die looking for him, but this is what is alleged against him. Gen. Dahl said after interviewing Bergdahl that he believed him, but that it was honorable of him and he deserves no confinement. Though Bergdahl had good intentions, he did make a terrible mistake, which he is quick to note.
Bergdahl was a Coast Guard washout before joining the Army. After a panic attack, Bergdahl was discharged. A prior departure from a branch of the military is a big deal, and upon reenlistment, the recruiter should have looked into it more. This is a major part of Bergdahl’s defense. Additionally, Bergdahl was diagnosed with Schizotypal Personality Disorder, a mental illness which is characterized by isolation, odd thinking, and severe social anxiety. People who knew Bergdahl remarked that he was eccentric and different from everyone else. In those with STPD, thoughts and events around them are interpreted with special meaning. Having a legitimate mental illness, which explains Bergdahl’s actions, should be cause for acquittal.
Season 2 was Bergdahl’s story, but the war in Afghanistan was a reoccurring theme throughout. The US and the Taliban were in secret talks during the 5 years to secure Bergdahl’s return, with many conditions from the Taliban. The Taliban wanted 5 detainees from Guantanamo Bay released, a political office, and to be seen as a political movement rather than a terrorist organization. Countless discussions led to more and more conditions, and more frustration. Bergdahl and the War were two entities joined together. Several of the discussions could have led to the end of the war.
Ultimately, the 5 detainees were traded for Bergdahl in a “mutual release.” Instantly, the deal was criticized. To make matters worse, President Obama announced the trade in the rose garden of the White House, where Bergdahl’s parents spoke, his Dad saying some words in Arabic and Pashto. Finally, former national security advisor Susan Rice defended the trade and Bergdahl, saying he served with “honor and distinction.” It should come as no surprise that a firestorm ensued.
Bergdahl’s former platoon mates were featured on several news shows, saying he was a traitor and advocating for him to be court martialed. In addition to incessant criticism, then presidential candidate Donald Trump said of Bergdahl, among other things, “in the old days deserters were shot.” Ironically, Trump was a four-time draft dodger. Many now claim that this impedes Bergdahl’s right to a fair trial, and that Trump should be deposed and called as a witness. In addition to Trump, former POW, presidential candidate, and Arizona Congressman John McCain said if Bergdahl was not prosecuted he would call for a joint session in congress. McCain heads the house armed services committee (HASC). For the current president, and one of the most influential former vets to call out Bergdahl was unprofessional on so many levels. Many criticizers of Bergdahl are very misinformed.
Lately, the media has resurrected Bergdahl’s story in light of Obama’s last minute commutation of Chelsea Manning, who released classified documents. Many were surprised Obama did not commute Bergdahl’s sentence. With Trump in power, Bergdahl has no hope of commutation or a light sentence. The best case scenario is that Bergdahl’s lawyers will be able to prove to the public once and for all that he is not a traitor. Bergdahl made mistakes, but the torture and inhumanity was inconceivable, and to throw him in prison with a mental illness is just as inhumane.