Tag: Serial

Evaluating Bowe Bergdahl


USA_PFC_BoweBergdahl_ACU_CroppedThe second season of Serial — the NPR podcast that investigated the murder of Hae Min Lee last year and turned its attention to the circumstances following Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s abandonment of his post in rural Afghanistan — ended last week.

And while this season may have lacked the suspense and mystery of the first, it made up for it through some impressive reporting regarding a matter of genuine public interest. We’ll undoubtedly learn more through Bergdahl’s court-martial this summer, but Serial’s investigation makes a strong case for the following:

  • Bergdahl was poorly suited to service in the US Army, a fact that should have been apparent to none more than Bergdahl himself. Besides being distrustful of authority, aloof, and prideful, Bergdahl had been kicked out of Coast Guard training years earlier, apparently after intentionally injuring himself during a panic attack. This doesn’t make him a bad guy — and his desire to try again is actually rather commendable in a naive sort of way — but it likely made him an unsuitable soldier. Some of his close friends saw that and tried to warn him off.
  • Even under the most generous interpretation of events — i.e., that he intended to showcase his commanders’ disregard for their soldiers’ safety by exposing security weaknesses — Bergdhal’s decision to leave his post was extraordinarily reckless and stupid.
  • There is, however, very little evidence to suggest that Bergdahl intended to harm his comrades, let alone that he is the “dirty rotten traitor” Donald Trump describes at nearly every rally. The SERE team that debriefed Bergdahl after his release has spoken highly of his conduct while caged by the Taliban and maintains that he’s been extremely helpful since.
  • While there’s little evidence to support the oft-stated claim that anyone was killed as a direct consequence of Bergdahl’s disappearance, several soldiers were seriously injured while searching for him. Moreover, Bergdahl is almost certainly indirectly responsible for a number of casualties — including fatalities — due to how resources and units were re-deployed in the effort to find him.
  • The Obama Administration utterly botched how to play the prisoner exchange, failed to vet whether Bergdahl’s parents were ready for prime time (they were a disaster), and ignored the mountains of evidence that Bergdahl was held in contempt by many of his former comrades. Susan Rice deserves particular scorn for doubling-down on these problems on subsequent Sunday talk shows.(Sound familiar? Yeah, I thought so, too.)

Bergdahl was severely punished for his decision to walk off that night in 2009; five years in a Taliban cage isn’t anything I’d wish on anyone. The question of whether — and to what degree — he should be held accountable for his actions is quite another matter. Serial has done a commendable job in bringing light to the case for the public; let’s hope the court-martial does an equally good investigation and applies the law with the justice that both Bergdahl and his comrades deserve.

Have You Been Listening to Serial Season 2?


logo-2Last year, NPR’s Serial podcast explored the case of Adnan Syed, a Baltimore high school student convicted of first degree murder following the 1999 disappearance and death of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. The series was so successful that it not only spawned countless parodies, but also a new subgenera of podcasts riffing off of host Sarah Koenig’s earnest-but-oh-so-NPR style. Many people wondered how they’d follow-up this year: would season two cover another murder, or would they apply the same treatment to an entirely different subject, as they intimated numerous times?

Last month, we found out: Koenig and crew are spending this season investigating the story of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the US Army soldier who left his post in Afghanistan in 2009 and spent five years as a prisoner of the Taliban and the Haqqani Network before being released in exchange for a number of Taliban members in 2014. That exchange was immediately controversial and became more so as the circumstances of Bergdahl’s capture began to trickle out, as well as the costs of the attempts to rescue him (six soldiers died during operations to find him). Indeed, since the series premiered, the US Army has launched a court-martial against Bergdahl, charging him with desertion and endangering his fellow troops. More recently, his case has been cited by some of the Republican presidential candidates — including Donald Trump, who’s referred to him as “a dirty, rotten traitor” since at least August — as a textbook example of the Obama Administration’s fecklessness and America’s decline in general.

So far, the backbone of the season has been a series of interviews with Bergdahl conducted by author Mark Boal, in which Bergdahl details his motivations, actions, and experiences. That such interviews exist at all is rather amazing, but the show weaves them together with a great many other material, including interviews with some of the soldiers from his unit (who almost universally have contempt for him), other Westerners held by the same Jihadi networks, and even some members of the Taliban. The podcast’s website has a host of other information and media, as well.