serial bowe bergdahl deserter whistleblower
When it comes to the second season of Serial, one thing is for sure—listeners are likely to be every bit as divided in their opinions, as they were about the innocence or guilt of Adnan Syed, the subject of season one’s hugely popular podcast.
As Sarah Koenig detailed last week, Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, fully admits walking off base and into the wilds of Afghanistan back in July 2009—but, what’s contentious is the reason why he left his post—he’s been painted as a cowardly deserter, however, the 29-year-old maintains that he’s actually a whistleblower, or would have been, if he hadn’t been captured by the Taliban, and held hostage for five long years.
Bergdahl’s disappearance sparked a massive, unprecedented manhunt, at great financial cost to the U.S.—in addition to the death of six of his fellow soldiers, and uncountable civilians—and, not surprisingly, the Army is pissed.
So pissed in fact, that Gen. Robert Abrams, the commander of U.S. Army Forces Command, announced on Monday that Bergdahl will be facing a general court-martial, on charges of desertion and “misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit or place.”
It's the highest charge that can be brought against him, and carries a possible life sentence, or even the death penalty (although that's highly unlikely in this case).
Given the fact that Bergdahl was held prisoner by the Taliban for five years, some may think he’s already been punished enough—the officer overseeing his preliminary hearing certainly thought so, he recommended Bergdahl be referred to a special court-martial and face no jail time at all—however, when you consider the sheer scale of the manhunt his disappearance sparked, it’s easy to understand why many military personnel are out for blood.
In yesterday’s podcast, Koenig spoke to several of Bergdahl’s fellow soldiers, as well as Afghan reporter, Sami Yousafzai, former U.S. Army Major Jason Dempsey, who was stationed in Afghanistan at the time, and even the Taliban, in her bid to dive deeper into what went down in the days and weeks following Bergdahl’s disappearance.
Bergdahl’s decision to walk off base immediately set off a DUSTWUN—Duty Status, Whereabouts Unknown soldier—alarm, forcing an entire battalion of soldiers out into Taliban enemy grounds, unable to wash or sleep or eat a full meal for weeks at a time, as they hunted for him.
It’s easy to see why many of those soldiers are angry at Bergdahl—to say the least—in fact, several of them told Koenig that if they had found him they would have wanted to have shot him for placing so many people’s lives in danger.
Which kinda makes you think, maybe it was just as well for Bergdahl that he did get captured by the Taliban, who at least fully appreciated the value of keeping him alive, as a financial and political bargaining tool—even likening him to a “golden chicken" during an interview with Yousafzai.
The circumstances surrounding Bergdahl’s capture could prove key to either backing-up, or debunking, his claim that he walked off base to garner media attention so he could go public with concerns he had about Army policy and leadership.
Bergdahl has maintained that he was captured by the Taliban in the open countryside—as he attempted to make his way to FOB Sharana, gathering "intelligence" on the way—that a bunch of Taliban fighters appeared on motorbikes from seemingly nowhere, surrounded him, and took him hostage.
However, the Taliban tells a different story—they claim they were tipped off by locals that an American was hiding out in a Kochi (a large tent that nomadic tribes live in) and that they went there to capture him.
As Koenig points out, if the Taliban is telling the truth, and if he was hiding out with nomads—and that’s obviously a big IF—it could seriously damage Bergdahl’s whistleblower story, and make it appear much more likely that he WAS in fact trying to desert, rather than “seek out intelligence” on his way to FOB Sharana as he alleges.
One thing is for sure though—after playing a protracted cat and mouse game with the U.S. Army, back and forth across Afghanistan, the Taliban finally managed to get Bergdahl over the border and into Pakistan—and, that’s where Koenig will be continuing from next week.
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