‘Serial’ Tells Bowe Bergdahl’s Story in His Own Words
The popular podcast dives deep into America’s Afghan obsession
On a summer night in 2009, U.S. Army Pvt. 1st Class Bowe Bergdahl wandered off his base and into the Afghan wilderness. The Taliban captured the soldier and held him for five years before negotiating his release in exchange for five Guantanamo detainees.
When he came home, initial celebration in the media gave way to speculation and punditry. Why did Bergdahl flee? Was he a coward and a deserter? Had he contacted the Taliban before fleeing his outpost? Would the Pentagon court martial him? Was one American private worth five Taliban soldiers?
While the media and public mulled these questions, the person who could give them some of those answers remained silent. Bergdahl did not talk to the media and his motivations stayed in the realm of speculation.
Until now. The popular podcast Serial just released the first episode of its second season. It’s all about Bergdahl … and much of it in his own words. On the same day Serial released this episode, the House Armed Services Committee published its 108 page investigation into the prisoner exchange that freed Bergdahl.
“The transfer of the Taliban Five violated several laws, including the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014,” the House investigation stated in its first finding.
It seems that the world will finally get some answers to one of the most persistent and bizarre mysteries of America’s war in Afghanistan. But it probably won’t be the answers anyone expected.
Bergdahl hasn’t spoken to the media, but he has talked with a screenwriter. Mark Boal — who wrote Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker — has recorded more than 25 hours of conversation with the wayward soldier. Those conversations are the basis for this season of Serial.
But Serial isn’t interested in just Bergdahl. Host Sarah Koenig and her team investigated the young Army private and spoke with his fellow soldiers … and the Taliban. “What I was seeing, from my first unit all the way up into Afghanistan … was … leadership failure to the point that the lives of the guys standing next to me were literally … in danger,” Bergdahl tells Boal.
Bergdahl figured no one would listen to the complaints of a lowly private. But if went missing it would trigger a DUSTWUN – -the Army’s abbreviation for “duty status – whereabouts unknown.” That signal would send ripples through the chain of command.
“A man disappears from a [traffic control point] and a few days later, after DUSTWUN is called up, he reappears at a [forward operating base]?” He explains. “Suddenly, because of the DUSTWUN, everybody is alerted. The CIA is alerted. Marines are alerted. Air Force is alerted. Navy is alerted. It’s not just the Army.”
With all that attention on him, Bergdahl figured someone might listen to his complaints about the U.S. military’s command. Instead, the Taliban grabbed him.
“This one idiosyncratic guy makes a radical decision at the age of 23 — to walk away into Afghanistan,” Koenig says at the top of the show. “And the consequences of that decision, they spin out wider and wider … to get the full picture, you need to go very small. Into one person’s life. And also very very big into the war in Afghanistan.”
Serial isn’t known for offering easy answers. The show’s investigation into the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee came to few conclusions, but riveted listeners with its explorations of every facet of a case some thought long solved.
Many of us have already drawn our own conclusions about the wayward soldier, and Serial probably won’t change any minds. But it lets Bergdahl air his version of events, as odd and unsatisfactory as they may seem. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll learn something about the war in Afghanistan in the process.