Serial Recap, Episode 1: Here’s What We Know So Far
Today, Season 2 of Serial launched. Over the course of between eight and 10 episodes, the show will examine the story of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, a U.S. soldier who left his post in Afghanistan and was subsequently captured by the Taliban, who imprisoned him for five years. After Bergdahl’s return to the U.S. in a trade for five Guantánamo detainees, President Obama delivered a triumphant statement, with Bergdahl’s parents by his side. (Watch the video of Bergdahl’s release here.) But after allegations came to light, many—including Senator John McCain—labeled Bergdahl a deserter.
In a significant departure from the Peabody Award-winning first season, which examined a little-known 1999 murder case, Bergdahl’s case has already garnered extensive coverage in the past few years—so good luck avoiding (or forgetting) spoilers for this one. But for Serial listeners, Bergdahl’s story is just beginning. After Episode 1, here’s the extent of what we know so far.
Who He Is: On July 1, 2009, Private first class Bowe Bergdahl went missing from his outpost in Mest, Afghanistan. As described by fellow soldiers, the conditions at Mest were abysmal—no electricity, a trash-filled “pit of hell,” a job stirring a literal giant pot of excrement—and what Bergdahl describes as “leadership failure, to the point that the lives of the guys standing next to me were literally, from what I could see, in danger.”
What He Planned: As a private, he didn’t think his grievances would make it far up the chain of command. Besides, as he describes, he had a unique opportunity to prove his mettle as a soldier: “I had this fantastic idea that I was going to prove to the world that I was the real thing.” So he decided to enact a risky plan, which Bergdahl now descibes as “gutsy, but still stupid”: Leave the outpost, triggering a nationwide search for a DUSTWUN (Duty Status, Whereabouts Unknown) soldier, and run 18.6 miles to the nearest base, FOB Sharana. (Check out a map of his planned journey here.)
What Actually Happened: 20 minutes outside of the base, though, he realized that he would be considered a deserter—unless he brought some valuable intel with him to Sharana. So he went looking for people planting IEDs, in hopes of detaining them. Instead, he got lost in the mountains; the sun rose to find him alone in the Afghan desert, with no cover; it wasn’t long before a group of armed Taliban operatives on motorcycles found him.
What’s Happening Now: Beyond “Episode 01: DUSTWUN,” there’s more news about Bergdahl today: The House Armed Services Committee released a report, concluding that by trading five Guantánamo detainees for Bergdahl without giving 30 days advance notice to Congress, the Obama administration broke the law.
What’s Next: Next week, Sarah Koenig promises to give us the Taliban’s side of the story.
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