Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. Army soldier who spent five years imprisoned by the Taliban before his release in 2014, is back in the news. In addition to the fact that his case is the subject of the latest season of the Serial podcast, the army announced earlier this month that Bergdahl will be court-martialed on desertion charges. The case and the podcast center on where Bergdahl went during his tour in Afghanistan, and what happened when he was gone — but where is Bowe Bergdahl from originally?
The answer is the Gem State. Bergdahl is from Hailey, Idaho, population roughly 8,000. When Bergdahl's case became public, Hailey was thrown onto something of an emotional roller coaster. Initially, when it was reported that he'd gone missing while on duty, the town rallied behind him, setting up ribbons and decorations in the hopes that he'd eventually returned safe. But after it was reported that Bergdahl deserted his post while on duty, the mood turned, the ribbons were taken down, and the homecoming celebration was canceled.
"We're over it," the town's mayor told CNN in October 2014. "We stood by the Bergdahl family to get Bowe home but we need to move on."
At this point, it's undisputed that Bergdahl wandered off of an army post in Afghanistan without permission and was then captured by the enemy. Both the army and Bergdahl agree on this much. What is in dispute — and what the new season of Serial focuses on — is what Bergdahl's motives were for leaving that base, and whether that ought to affect his punishment.
(Warning: Mild spoilers for the first episode of Season 2 of Serial.)
As detailed in Serial, Bergdahl claims that he deserted his post as part of an ill-conceived plan to draw attention to the alleged sadistic actions of one of his superiors. The podcast hasn't revealed who this superior was or what they were allegedly doing, but Bergdahl's purported plan was simple. He would go missing, his disappearance attracting attention at the highest levels of the military, then return, at which point he'd have the ear of top military brass. He would then use this opportunity to blow the whistle on his troublesome superior.
Is that a believable story? If so, should this motivation — as well as the fact that he spent five years as a prisoner of war — earn him some sort of leniency or reduced sentence, should he be found guilty of desertion? That's the question at the heart of Season 2 of Serial, and if it's anything like the last season, it'll be quite a while until we arrive at anything resembling an answer.