‘Serial’ Season 2 Lets Bowe Bergdahl Tell His Side of Afghan Story

10 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

GOP report: Administration misled Congress on Bergdahl swap.

The podcast phenomenon Serial has returned as a high-profile platform for Bowe Bergdahl, the US army sergeant who spent five years in Taliban captivity after vanishing from his post in Afghanistan, to speak publicly about his alleged desertion for the first time. Last season, Serial chose to cover a largely unknown case but the show wisely decided to take a different tack this year picking up the well-known and divisive story of Sgt.

Within a day, he was captured by the Taliban and held prisoner for five years, setting off a furious search and high-level diplomatic negotiations, and ending with his dramatic exit on May 31, 2014, aboard a helicopter flown by American commandos.WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans are claiming in a new report that the Obama administration misled Congress about the effort to release five Taliban detainees at Guantanamo Bay for U.S.

A new congressional report details what Republicans call a deception surrounding a controversial 2014 prisoner swap, suggesting the release of five Taliban prisoners in exchange for American captive Sgt. Sergeant Bergdahl — he was promoted while in captivity — has been charged with one count of desertion and one count of misbehavior before the enemy. The first episode begins by examining a video of Bergdahl’s release, according to the magazine, in an episode titled DUSTWUN. “Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl: hero or deserter?” one announcer asks, according to the New Yorker. An Army general overseeing the case is now weighing what charges should formally be brought against him and whether he should face court-martial and the possibility of a life sentence.

But the chief American negotiator sent an email to the Pentagon warning that any leak could scuttle it. “There is great concern all around about possible leaks,” the negotiator, Stephen W. After a year-and-a-half-long investigation, the House Armed Services Committee’s Republican majority also renewed assertions that the decision to send the senior Taliban figures to Qatar, a move that took place just hours after Sgt. Another says, “Parents of some fallen soldiers say that their sons would be alive if Bergdahl had not gone missing from his post.” The podcast then launches into the political fallout that came as Bergdahl was released to the United States, including criticism from Republican presidential candidates. The new batch of episodes promises to deliver fresh details on a murky and controversial case which remains the subject of a military probe and a political firestorm, with Donald Trump and other Republicans branding the soldier a traitor.

The report also provided behind-the-scenes details about the Defense Department’s work with the Qataris, who played the middleman in negotiating the swap with the Taliban. Serial, an initiative created by This American Life and associated with US public-radio that swiftly became an international sensation, will examine the circumstances surrounding Berdahl’s capture in 2009 and release last year, when the White House traded him for five Guantánamo Bay prisoners.

Sarah Koenig herself has called the case “controversial.” That controversy stems from the conflicting reports about how Bergdahl wound up in the hands of the Taliban. The first season of “Serial”—about the 1999 murder of a Baltimore teen, Hae Min Lee, and the conviction of her ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed for the crime—asked a specific question: Did he do it?

The five Taliban leaders, held at the military prison in Cuba, were informed that they were being released two days before the administration told Congress, the report said. Selecting an active and politically charged case risks incurring the wrath of military and political figures who have expressed concern at Bergdahl being depicted as a victim, or a hero, rather than a villain who allegedly abandoned and endangered his comrades. While administration officials hope to help Obama deliver on his promise to close Guantanamo Bay before he leaves office, lawmakers appear unlikely to drop long-standing their opposition. On Thursday, the committee’s Republican members will make public a report, obtained by The New York Times, that sheds new light on the administration’s secret maneuvers before the swap and portrays the deal as both reckless and illegal.

General Dahl testified that while Sergeant Bergdahl was naïve and unrealistic — and his concerns were unwarranted — he sincerely believed in what he was doing. But what those facts mean, what Bergdahl actually experienced in the Army, his motivations for leaving his platoon, and the many terrible consequences of that decision are more complex, even existential.

Gary Ross, defended the prisoner exchange, saying that security arrangements with Qatar had substantially mitigated any threat posed by the five former detainees. “We have an unwavering commitment and patriotic duty to leave no man or woman in uniform behind on the battlefield,” he said. “We had a near-term opportunity to save Sergeant Bergdahl’s life, and we were committed to using every tool at our disposal to secure his safe return.” The committee’s 98-page report cites numerous internal Pentagon emails and closed-door testimony by military officials. The probe into the exchange involved 16 classified interviews totaling 31 hours, perusing more than 4,000 pages of written material, trips to Qatar and Guantanamo Bay and the review of several hours of classified video about the preparations for the transfer and how the five were flown to Qatar.

John McCain, the chairman of the Senate armed services committee, has called Bergdahl a deserter and promised hearings if he escapes jail and disciplinary action. The report from House Republicans reiterated lawmakers’ complaint and a General Accounting Office finding that the transfer violated the National Defense Authorization Act and other laws. If Serial is perceived to sympathise with Bergdahl, it may give Trump an opportunity to simultaneously bash two of his top targets: the media and a soldier whom he has accused of being a “no-good traitor who should have been executed”. At the time, there were rumors that on-again, off-again talks about a prisoner exchange, which had broken down several years earlier, might be underway again, but the administration repeatedly suggested to reporters and to Congress that nothing significant was going on. Maxim, which first reported Serial’s choice of topic in September, quoted two former members of Bergdahl’s unit who said they had been interviewed by Serial producers.

Adding an extra twist to the controversy is the report that attacks in and around Bergdahl’s base increased after his capture, leading some to conclude that the tortured sergeant was feeding the Taliban information. According to his former commanders, the search diverted thousands of troops for 45 days, and those troops experienced nonstop fatigue and dangerous missions while neglecting important tasks, like supporting Afghan forces. The report details internal communications regarding the transfer, focusing in part on what it depicts as administration efforts to conceal their plans from Congress and the press. Both worried the podcast – which was not yet complete, and which they had not heard – would be biased toward the alleged deserter. “My concern is that the truth is being diluted by those looking to gain from Bowe’s story,” one soldier told the magazine’s website. “I get it that … Serial is trying to make a nifty diorama for hipsters to marvel at, but I think it’s the height of crassness for them to do this when it could potentially affect the legal proceedings,” said the other. “I assume it will be a great way to paint us as kooks and sore losers.” In September, Emily Condon, a production manager for Serial, asked Maxim and other media outlets to give the programme space to do its job: “We’d very much appreciate if fellow journalists would give us some room and not feel the need to attempt to dig into and try to figure out what you think we might be doing,” she said.

News reports had surfaced suggesting that a renewed push to secure Bergdahl’s release had begun. “Yet, the Department did not convey any of the details to the Committee,” the report stated. “Indeed, [a Taliban statement to the Associated Press] contained more specifics about a prospective exchange than what was conveyed through official channels to the Committee and others in Congress at the time.” Around the same time, then-Pentagon General Counsel Stephen Preston was helping prepare then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel for budget testimony. The production company of Mark Boal, the journalist and screenwriter behind the Oscar-winning film Zero Dark Thirty, worked with the Serial team on the Bergdahl investigation. A now-retired member of the Navy SEALs, Jimmy Hatch, was severely hurt in one leg during a rescue raid days after Sergeant Bergdahl disappeared, and has undergone more than 30 surgeries for his wounds. The prisoner swap was politically controversial, with some critics saying it was a bad deal because it required letting dangerous Taliban detainees out of Guantánamo and because it might provide an incentive for further kidnappings of soldiers. The military is weighing whether to prosecute Sergeant Bergdahl in a court-martial on a desertion charge, although the chief investigators recommended that he serve no jail time.

Bergdahl walked off Combat Outpost Mest-Lalak, a tiny base in Paktika province in eastern Afghanistan, on 30 June 2009, triggering an intense, months-long search which drained and angered his comrades. Fidell, Sergeant Bergdahl’s chief defense lawyer, has said his client “is grateful to the military professionals, including Senior Chief Petty Officer Jimmy Hatch, who worked to rescue him.” A. Joe Sowers, another Pentagon spokesman, said Preston’s suggested response for Hagel was “accurate and forthcoming.” He said the comments were appropriate for an unclassified setting and reflected the preliminary stage where the issue stood at that moment. “The request for proof of life was preliminary to any negotiations, to ensure there was a reason for the U.S. government to pursue discussions,” he said. A 2012 Rolling Stone article by the late reporter Michael Hastings, drawing on emails Bergdahl sent his family, indicated his disgust with the Afghanistan war. “I have seen their ideas and I am ashamed to even be American.

Another witness, Terrence Russell, a Pentagon official with extensive experience debriefing prisoners of war, testified that Sergeant Bergdahl resisted his captors, never gave up trying to escape and endured the worst treatment of any American since Vietnam. The Qataris warned that if news of the pending exchange leaked out, “the wheels come off.” But the report expressed strong objections to the Obama administration’s decision not to keep the congressional oversight committees fully informed. While the administration is seeking to resettle detainees who aren’t seen as a security risk, others may eventually be tried or simply detained indefinitely without trial. “While we do not have an email saying, ‘Do this because this is going to help with the president’s campaign promise,’ something as explicit as that, we draw the conclusion on the basis of the totality of what we have in front of us,” another aide said.

It suggested that the secrecy and unusual process indicated that the administration’s motive was in part to avoid controversy that might disrupt its ability to rid itself of five harder-core detainees, making it easier to fulfill Mr. Congressional Republicans, however, erupted, complaining they were not informed in advance, and that the so-called “Taliban Five” – Mohammad Fazl, Mullah Norullah Noori, Mohammed Nabi, Khairullah Khairkhwa, and Abdul Haq Wasiq – could return to combat after an unspecified “monitoring” period in Qatar. Boal told me, “When I started talking to Bowe, I never intended for it to be anything other than background—the homework I do before a story gets transformed into a piece of entertainment.” On the tapes, he said, “I’m uncharacteristically unguarded and casual, and everyone said, ‘That’s great.’ ” After much discussion, and permission from Bergdahl, the two teams decided to collaborate for “Serial” season two. In their dissenting report, the Democratic committee members agreed that it was lamentable that the executive branch had not obeyed the 30-day notice law. Michael Dumont, deputy assistant secretary of defense, noted that there was “concern about one of the knuckleheads trying something” on the plane, but the flight was uneventful.

The report rejected those arguments as “evasive legal gymnastics.” The constitutional debate is important because of the precedent set by the transfer. In “DUSTWUN,” we hear Bergdahl say to Boal, “How do I explain to a person that just standing in an empty dark room hurts?” The darkness and isolation of his captivity caused him confusion, he says. “I would wake up not even remembering what I was.

Since the Taliban swap took place, lawmakers have tightened rules governing those transfers, making it harder for the administration to empty out the prison. But the Democratic report said the constitutional issues were far murkier than the Republican report suggested and emphasized that the swap had saved an American soldier. “As gravely disappointed as we may be over the administration’s failure to comply with a statutory notice requirement, the majority’s nakedly partisan effort to indict the administration and to second guess its decisions, in hindsight, while simultaneously expressing relief that the benefit of Sergeant Bergdahl’s safe return was in fact achieved, is as unfair as it is wrong,” it said. I couldn’t see my hands, I couldn’t do anything.” It got to the point where he wanted to scream. “And I can’t scream, I can’t risk that, so it’s like you’re standing there screaming in your mind. Serious questions about his fitness had been raised before: Sergeant Bergdahl washed out of Coast Guard basic training after less than a month in 2006. And, I mean—” He pauses. “I hate doors now.” Now he’s on the other side of that door, a realm with questions just as vast, along with daily concerns, regular sounds, thoughts, moments.

Fidell said Sergeant Bergdahl’s Coast Guard separation papers described an “adjustment disorder with depression.” That raises questions about why the Army was willing to enlist him, Mr. You keep moving in and out.” In the episode, Koenig compares this phenomenon to “Zoom,” a book she used to read to her kids, in which zooming out and out and out from one spread to the next changes your understanding of where you are and what you’re looking at. None of what happened to Bowe or because of Bowe is what I expected.” The central controversy in Bergdahl’s story centers on his decision to leave his post. The journey was long and treacherous, through Taliban country, but Bergdahl was an experienced outdoorsman and a confident soldier, an idealist who thought he could make it.

The range of reactions in conversations that she has had with Bergdahl’s fellow-soldiers is wide, she said—about Bergdahl, but also about the mission in Afghanistan and the way the military works. Parts of those conversations will be spread over several episodes. “It was really, really personal for them that he walked away—it’s not just like you betrayed your country, or you walked out on the mission, or you left your post.

A lot of people we’ve reached out to either said no or we had to work really hard to get them to say yes.” The “Serial” staff members were not military experts at the beginning. Koenig said that when she interviews service members, “I’m asking the most basic questions about how a brigade is organized, about rank—so they’re breaking down the story for me and their thoughts about it in a way that’s helpful for the tape.

I’m learning all the time.” Now that she’s building the episodes, Koenig said, “I’m reading the logs of the soldiers, and I understand so much more about what the mission was, where they were, the geography, where other brigades were operating and where Special Forces were. Sharana,” Snyder said. “It’s the path that Bowe wanted to take.” (Dangerfield showed me this afterward, and as we flew from here to there I kept making exclamations of amazement and gradual comprehension.) Snyder stood up and showed me an analogue map: from National Geographic, of Afghanistan and Pakistan, pinned to the bulletin board across from her desk.

This is where Bowe’s platoon was.” I asked about the idea that some had raised online, that a “Serial” season on Bergdahl would be overly sympathetic and would unfairly influence his fate. Koenig said, “Our goal is to help ourselves understand, and in the process make other people understand the situation a little more deeply.” Snyder said, “I saw a headline in the Washington Post that said something like, ‘The Afghan Government and the Taliban Are Talking with Pakistan as an Interlocutor of Resuming Peace Talks—’ ” Koenig said, “It was the Wall Street Journal. In some ways, I realized, this relationship is more efficient than an in-person collaboration—it’s as if Koenig and the computer are one, a person thinking inside the machine. This is a tough one.” Snyder said, “You have these things that you think of as these monolithic institutions, like the Army, the Administration, the Taliban.

I’ve never met somebody like him.” What she wants from season two, Koenig said, is to use “Serial” to do something meaningful. “I do have that old-fashioned sense, as a reporter, that, I don’t know, we get to tell people shit! So we’re not going to say ‘Let’s do the most popular thing’ or ‘Let’s do the thing that’s going to feel like candy in your ears.’ You know what I mean? It’s just like, Let’s do shit that matters that we care about.” Boal, on the phone, agreed. “These wars have gone on for so long, and more than a million people have served, and there are still so many people in the New York-L.A. axis who are really divorced from the realities of the war.

In small towns, that’s not the case.” Many Americans, he said, are “largely bereft of even a basic sense of what life was like for the soldiers there. If you compare that to Vietnam, when we were steeped every night in imagery—the vast majority of the population is just completely disconnected from it.” Bergdahl’s story had originally appealed to him as a way into that bigger story. “What he went through is singular for these wars,” Boal said. “I kind of felt that Bowe represented something about the war. Before I left “Serial,” I talked to the researcher and law-school graduate Kevin Garnett about Bergdahl’s charges—he was writing a post about the court-martial situation for the “Serial” Web site, he said—discussed listener engagement with the new community editor, Kristen Taylor, and sat in on an editing session, in which Snyder and Kate Belinski, the newly hired mixer, fiddled with the episode’s theme music in the opening.

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