Revisiting the illegal Bowe Bergdahl swap: Undermining Congress’s ‘power of …

11 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘I thought I was Jason Bourne from the movies': Sgt Bowe Bergdahl describes deserting his military base for the first time in highly anticipated second season of Serial.

Host Sarah Koenig, in the highly anticipated Season 2 opener that was posted Thursday morning, has been carefully laying out the back story and hinting at the side stories of U.S.The US soldier who was held five years by Taliban-linked insurgents says he walked off his base in Afghanistan in a stunt to prove he was like fictional CIA movie spy Jason Bourne.The show is the most successful podcast of all time, with more than 100 million downloads of the first series about the little-known case of Maryland convict Adnan Syed.

Now, with pressure to replicate last year’s success, narrator Sarah Koenig and screenwriter Mark Boal have tackled the case of Bergdahl – letting the former serviceman tell his side for the first time. ‘Doing what I did is me saying that I am like, I dunno, Jason Bourne, Bergdahl says as he recalls leaving his Army base in the first episode of the second season, which was released on Thursday at 6am Eastern Time. ‘I had this fantastic idea that I was going to prove to the world that I was the real thing. The march and mock massacre initially were scheduled to take place on campus, but events were moved about 20 feet off the university after the school raised trespassing and other concerns (surprise).

Episode one is already out, but if you want to know what you’re getting yourself into (especially before the Serial addiction comes back in full force), get a debriefing on the case with five things you need to know here: This season’s case is a bit more newsy than season one’s murder mystery – and the story has already received national attention. If you know anything about Bergdahl’s Rorschach test of a case — capture, return via prisoner swap, a charge of desertion — you’ll understand why it attracted Koenig and her crew to their concept of spinning out one narrative over a dozen or so episodes. He is currently an active-duty soldier with a desk job in Texas while the military decides whether to put him on trial for desertion and “misbehavior before the enemy” that could see him jailed for life.

He adds: ‘I don’t know what it was, but there I was in the open desert, and I’m not about to outrun a bunch of motorcycles, so I couldn’t do anything against, you know, six or seven guys with AK-47s. That notion certainly worked in the 2014-2015 run of Season 1, when “Serial’s” reinvestigation of a Baltimore high school murder case essentially proved the commercial viability of podcasting.

He was held by the Taliban for five years after walking away from his military base in 2009 – until the U.S. government controversially swapped his freedom for five Taliban members from Guantanamo Bay. Beyond just being gripping, intimate storytelling about, ultimately, the powers and limitations of journalism, the show demonstrated this new-ish medium could draw big enough numbers to compete with cable TV and inspire spinoff books and TV series and the like. Come And Take It Texas says on its Facebook page that the Life and Liberty Walk to End Gun-Free Zones is an effort to combat President Obama’s “gun confiscation agenda.” It said the mock shooting is designed to show how the outcome of a rampage can be altered if people are armed.

His account of his experience in the 44-minute episode comes just hours after House Republicans released a 98-page report claiming that the Obama administration misled Congress about the effort to release the so-called Taliban Five. So now, more than two years after the first season began, there’s a lot of pressure on the second to, if not strike ratings gold again, at least hold its own as a case study worthy of such close examination.

The group is calling for an “open carry walk with our rifles and legal black powder pistols.” Apparently a mass farting demonstration is planned in counter-protest. It 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. He wanted to create a “Dustwun” — the radio signal for duty status whereabouts unknown — that would scramble the military and the CIA so that when he returned, he might be able to get the ear of a general. 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. Initially, the plan was for Bergdahl to be welcomed home with a celebration befitting a war hero, complete with a reception hosted by President Obama for Bergdahl and his parents in the White House Rose Garden.

In preparation he mailed his books, journal, laptop and Kindle e-reader home, purchased a local Afghan outfit and withdrew $300 in US and local currency in case he needed to bribe someone. Koenig’s familiar warm tones purr once again into our ears — the show is simply better via headphones — as she unfolds a story that she promises will resonate on personal levels and on broader-reaching ones. If a trial goes ahead, military prosecutors will seek to prove that Bergdahl had a duty to defend a unit or place, and endangered his fellow soldiers by failing to uphold his duty. Not for nothing is the voice of presidential candidate Donald Trump heard intoning, about Bergdahl, “In the old days, deserters were shot.” Koenig frames her story, sets her hook, like this: “This one idiosyncratic guy makes a radical decision at the age of 23 to walk away into Afghanistan.

In 2014, Sarah Koenig’s 12-episode investigation of Adnan Syed, a Baltimore-area man serving life in prison for the 1999 murder of his girlfriend became America’s most buzzed-about podcast. He says: ‘What I was seeing from my first unit all the way up into Afghanistan, all’s I was seeing was basically leadership failure, to the point that the lives of the guys standing next to me were literally from what I could see in danger of something seriously going wrong and somebody being killed.’ Instead of trekking 18 miles to tell another base about issues at his own, Bergdahl claims he decided to follow the Taliban as they planted explosives, so he had some concrete information to impart. Filmmaker Mark Boal (“The Hurt Locker,” “Zero Dark Thirty”) taped 25 hours of phone conversations with the soldier — he’s still on active duty pending final determination in his case — and Boal brought them to “Serial.” His production company, making a movie about Bergdahl, is a partner this season with the podcast, a side project of “This American Life” that is, like “TAL,” produced in collaboration with Chicago public radio outlet WBEZ-FM 91.5. That logic sounds loopy, which even Bergdahl acknowledges (“stupid,” he says) and which Koenig points out may well be something he cooked up during five years of captivity. It wasn’t that long ago that Kim said he was ready to wage war against us “American imperialists.” The nominations for the 73rd annual Golden Globe Awards were announced Thursday morning.

Some of the sadness people are talking about: There was strangely no love for Johnny Depp for his portrayal of Whitey Bulger in Black Mass and the final season of Mad Men is going quietly into the night. It’s almost a throwaway, that ‘whatever,’ but it’s also stark enough to make you wonder if it implies judgment, a potentially clouding judgment, about all these rules and regulations. So it’s like you’re standing there screaming in your mind in this room.’ Speaking to the New York Times, Boal said Bergdahl was fond of the unusual format as a way to put his side across as his case heads to court – and newspaper front pages. ‘The Serial podcast, like the preliminary hearing conducted in September, is a step in the right direction.

The only thing you can count on in combat is commitment of your fellow Americans, knowing that someone you needed to trust deserted you in war and did so on his own free will is the ultimate betrayal. More quibbles: “Serial” apparently will not be interviewing Bergdahl itself, leaving it reliant on questions that were asked in a very different context and before the show reported out the story. And the show calling Bergdahl by his first name, almost from the outset, on one hand brings him closer to listeners, but it also implies almost a friendliness from the producers. It’s an editorial choice “Serial” made with Season 1, too, where the convicted killer, Adnan Syed, was known as “Adnan.” It rankled then; it seems likely to rankle in this next run of episodes, which will appear weekly at www.serialpodcast.org, on Pandora and iTunes and in other podcasting outlets.

Bigger than that is the question of whether Bergdahl’s story, despite its complexities and all the important people who became involved, carries enough weight to be teased out at length. Bergdahl.’ 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. 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. Adam Smith of Washington state and Jackie Speier of California, who wrote the Democrats’ eight-page rebuttal, called the report ‘unbalanced’ and ‘partisan’.

It’s Star Wars Month at USA TODAY, and we’re counting down to the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens by spending all of December celebrating the beloved film series.

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