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Transcript

Episode 02: The Golden Chicken

Note: Serial is produced for the ear and designed to be heard, not read. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which includes emotion and emphasis that's not on the page. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

Sarah Koenig

Before we get on with episode two, some news. A few days ago, the army announced that it will take Bowe Bergdahl's charges to court-martial—to trial, basically. He's charged with two crimes: desertion and something called misbehavior before the enemy.

That second one, it's not used very often, and it carries the possibility of a life sentence, which, it doesn't seem likely that would happen. That'd be so extreme. But it does mean Bowe could face some amount of prison time if he's convicted.

The army's decision to go to court-martial—it's not that it's so surprising. I mean, this was always a strong possibility. It's just, for a lot of people watching Bowe's case, it's been hard to handicap. All outward signs have pointed to an army that is of two minds about how to deal with what Bowe did—whether to throw the book at him, or whether to say, OK, yes, he screwed up in a huge way, but five years with the Taliban, enough is enough.

On the one hand, the army leveled pretty severe charges against Bowe. But then, in a military hearing in September, the two-star general in charge of investigating Bowe's case, a man named Kenneth Dahl—who took a 371 page statement from Bowe, who assembled a 22 person team, who coordinated with 24 government agencies, interviewed 56 people—he said he believed that Bowe told them the truth about why he did what he did, that Bowe was remorseful, that Bowe recognizes, quote, "that he was young and naive and inexperienced," unquote.

When asked on the stand whether he thought Bowe should go to jail, Major General Dahl said, quote, "I think it would be inappropriate," unquote.

Likewise, the officer in charge of that hearing, Lieutenant Colonel Mark Visger, in his report on what to do about the charges, he apparently recommended a lesser proceeding called a special court-martial, more like a misdemeanor trial. He also recommended no confinement.

In response to which Senator John McCain, arguably our country's most powerful former POW—he was held for five years during the Vietnam War—McCain told a Boston Herald reporter that if Bowe got no punishment, he'd hold a congressional hearing to look into Bergdahl's case.

And then, this week, the announcement that the army will pursue the charges in the most serious way possible: a general court-martial. It's almost as if those military officials who've come into close contact with Bowe are ready to forgive him, while the army as an institution continues to be furious.

A few months ago, filmmaker Mark Boal was talking to Bowe on the phone, and they were discussing the possibility of a plea deal—of whether Bowe would take an offer for, say, one, two, three years in prison in exchange for pleading guilty. Bowe said he didn't think he would, even though the basic facts of the case aren't in dispute.

Bowe admits he walked away from his post of his own volition. But Bowe told Mark he worried that if he took some plea offer, he'd never get to explain himself, and people would continue to hate him. And it's true: a lot of people hate him, without ever fully understanding his reasons for doing what he did. That was his fear. That, after all of this, he'd end up misunderstood.

Bowe Bergdahl

Yeah, as exhausted as I am, and, you know, it's just scary as it is going through all of it, you know, I made it through the last five years—it just kind of seems stupid to lose whatever it is that's been keeping me going.

Mark Boal

Yeah. Well, I can respect that. I mean, I think that to give that up now would almost be like ... kind of almost make the whole thing pointless.

Bowe Bergdahl

Yeah, and basically turn it all into a really stupid joke.

Sarah Koenig

From This American Life and WBEZ Chicago, it's Serial, one story told week by week. I'm Sarah Koenig.

Reporter 1

Good evening, everyone. Ordinarily the release of an American serviceman after five years of wartime captivity would—

Reporter 2

Pentagon sources tell NBC that Bergdahl vanished under mysterious circumstances—

Reporter 3

Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, hero or deserter?

Reporter 4

—that these soldiers are engaged in a political smear campaign by raising questions—

Reporter 5

And parents of some fallen soldiers say their sons would be alive if Bergdahl had not gone missing from his post.

Donald Trump

In the old days, deserters were shot. [Crowd cheers] Right?

Bowe Bergdahl

The very last thing is just I'm a prisoner. I want to go home. Bring me home, please. Bring me home.

Sarah Koenig

I was talking on the phone recently to this Taliban fighter. I'm calling him Mujahid Rahman—not his real name. He told me that when they got Bowe Bergdahl, that when they caught him, the Taliban knew they had scored. Rahman said, quote, "a dead soldier is worth nothing, but he was captured alive, and he was like a golden chicken," unquote.

In the weeks and years, really, following Bowe's capture, during the tactical push and pull between the insurgents and the U.S. forces, each side would ask itself over and over: What is Bowe worth to us? What is Bowe worth to our enemy? How much will we get? How much will we sacrifice?

Mujahid Rahman described one raid by U.S. forces not long after Bowe disappeared. He said something like 15 Taliban were killed. An American special operations commander I spoke to described a similar raid—15 enemy killed.

I asked Rahman through an interpreter who was sitting next to me, "Was it worth it—15 of your guys in one raid for Bergdahl?"

Mujahid Rahman

[Speaking Pashto]

Interpreter

Some people are worth more than 1,000 other individuals. And he was worth maybe more than 5,000 individuals.

Mujahid Rahman

[Speaking Pashto]

Sarah Koenig

So exactly how did the Taliban get Bowe in the first place, and what did they do with him once they realized who he was? Mark Boal looked into this too, and it was his company, Page One, that got in touch with a guy named Sami Yousafzai.

Sami is Afghan. He's a reporter, a very brave reporter. He's based in Islamabad, but he travels around a lot for his work, covering the war in Afghanistan. He writes for Newsweek and other publications.

And about a year and a half ago, Page One hired Sami to interview whomever he could and report back what he found. And he did. He didn't record these interviews on tape, but Sami found about a half dozen people who said they'd either been part of the kidnapping or had interacted with Bowe while he was being held.

One of the first people Sami found was this guy named Hilal. Hilal is a Taliban fighter, part of a group that was running missions in Paktika province, where Bowe's battalion was based. What Hilal told Sami is that the Taliban had gotten word from the local people in the area that sometimes a Westerner was coming close to the village, taking photos, and also that they'd seen a soldier sitting on top of the hill near a U.S. checkpoint.

So Hilal and a few of his guys had come to the village to see if it was true, and, if it was, to work out a plan to grab him. Kidnapping foreigners—journalists, aid workers, missionaries—this was big business for the Taliban at the time, and it still is.

I interviewed Sami about what Hilal told him. According to Hilal, they've just gotten to this village—to Mest, in fact, where Bowe's unit was manning an outpost, and they're taking a rest at the mosque.

Sami Yousafzai

Uh, at that time, suddenly somebody shouted and said there is a foreigner in a Kuchi tent.

Sarah Koenig

A foreigner in a Kuchi tent. Kuchi is a word for nomads. They keep flocks of animals and live in these big tents. In summer, they open up the sides of the tent for fresh air.

Sami Yousafzai

And, uh, he's asking about Kabul, or asking about police. And Hilal said we're unexpected, let's find out what is this. And then we said, OK, let's go and find out.

Sarah Koenig

So Hilal and his guys go to this Kuchi tent, and they drive up on their motorbikes and see this foreigner.

Sami tells it from Hilal's perspective.

Sami Yousafzai

And we told him that we are police. I mean, American normally working with the local militia, which is not necessarily to be wear uniform.

Sarah Koenig

Right.

Sami Yousafzai

And we told him, police. And he look at us, and then he jump behind our bike.

Sarah Koenig

So is Hilal saying that we said, Oh, we're local police, so to come with us or whatever, and Bergdahl seemed to believe that and think he was maybe in safe hands?

Sami Yousafzai

Yep, yep. That's why, because the Kuchi already told him that this guy, we don't understand his language, but he's asking about police and Kabul. That's what they understand—maybe he was asking about something else, you know? Maybe asking for a bus or something, a road.

And that's why they came, and he said he was in a white dress and sandals, and he had something in his pocket—he said there was a pistol or a knife or something, but we don't know, really, exactly.

Sarah Koenig

OK.

This Kuchi tent thing comes up in various ways. The Taliban say either Bowe walked into a Kuchi tent or near a tent. The Americans got some intel at the time to the same effect, and that nomads tipped off the Taliban.

For his part, Bowe says he was never in a Kuchi tent. He says he was out in the open when armed men rode up on motorcycles and grabbed him. This is one of those discrepancies—and there will be others—where I feel like it's worth mentioning. Because if Bowe did walk into a Kuchi tent, as Hilal is saying, well, then it makes his own explanation sound less solid. Maybe he wasn't really trying to cause a DUSTWUN by running from OP Mest to FOB Sharana. Maybe he was simply deserting.

But I also can't tell how much weight I should really give this Kuchi tent story, because the Taliban bring up all kinds of rumors. Like that Bowe was in the village to meet up with a woman, or that he was looking for drugs—rumors pretty much anyone who's ever met Bowe can easily dismiss.

And maybe the truth is somewhere in between. It's possible Bowe was near a Kuchi camp and just didn't know it, and that the nomads saw him out in the open and alerted the Taliban, and Bowe was never the wiser.

Probably we're not going to get to the bottom of it, because we can't fact check the stories these guys told Sami. We can't be sure everything they told him is true. And the details of what happened do shift around depending on who Sami's talking to, which isn't unusual in any kind of reporting.

What I can say is that the overall chain of events, the major plot points that the Taliban describe, are pretty consistent person to person. In Sami's interviews with these guys, they don't seem that interested in pinning down exactly how Bowe ended up in or near a Kuchi tent. More what they want to talk about is how incredible it was that it happened at all.

To Rahman and Hilal, to everyone involved, this was just miraculous—that Kuchis, nomads, people they consider unsophisticated and uneducated, snagged this Westerner. And not just any Westerner, but an American: an enemy of the Quran, of the Pashtun people. And not just any American, but a soldier.

Rahman said the whole thing, the way they got him, and just being up close with your adversary like that, it was one of those lifetime strange experiences.

Mujahid Rahman

[Speaking Pashto]

Interpreter

And it came into our custody so easily, in Afghanistan, amongst all the, uh, provinces and districts, we were blessed—

Mujahid Rahman

[Speaking Pashto]

Sarah Koenig

"We were blessed." In Sami's interviews, they use this expression. They call Bowe a ready-made loaf, a gift from God. They felt so lucky that Bowe came to them—that of all the desert joints in all the provinces in all of Afghanistan, he walked into theirs.

Hilal told Sami that Bowe fought at first, but they subdued him. And then, once they got him on one of their bikes, they took him back to the mosque. At one point, Hilal says Bowe was again resisting, throwing punches, or maybe his captors were beating him up—it's not clear.

Sami Yousafzai

He said that, uh, like Bergdahl was kind of resisting, you know? He start like not giving up, and he was a good punching us, and he was a boxer kind of guy. And suddenly one Pakistani Taliban, he came close to him and he sat down on his knees, and suddenly Bergdahl kick him with his feet—because his feet was open. And we were start joking with [inaudible] that even this guy know you are Pakistani.

Sarah Koenig

[Laughs]

Sami Yousafzai

[Laughs] So, yeah.

Sarah Koenig

I'm laughing here as if I get the joke. I don't.

In some of Sami's conversations, the Taliban describe Bowe as strong and aggressive. Other times, he's meek and pathetic. The adjectives they apply to this mythic captive changing to suit the scene.

Hilal told Sami that for them, for these Kuchis, who'd maybe never been up close with a Westerner before, or maybe not even with an infidel, a non-Muslim, Bowe was exotic. Hilal said he was like an animal captured by kids. His pale skin was weird. The way he spoke was weird. His eyes were blue, which Sami says is somewhat suspicious in Afghanistan. There's a saying that you should keep away from blue-eyed people.

In the mosque, Hilal says people had gathered to discuss what to do with Bowe. I have Sami's notes from these interviews. In this one part, Hilal talks about how Bowe was sitting in a dark corner of the mosque, and another Taliban fighter said to him, quote, "see, you look like a small cat baby, with shining blue eyes," unquote. I asked Sami what that meant.

Sami Yousafzai

I think this is something explaining somebody weaknesses. But I think he said he was very kind of weak. He was not like a big Americans—you know, like a big heavy Americans. They thought he was like a weak Americans.

Sarah Koenig

Yeah. I'm just looking at a note that you wrote that says Bergdahl was weak and, I think, brainless.

Sami Yousafzai

Yeah.

Sarah Koenig

Yeah, what does he mean by that?

Sami Yousafzai

Oh, brainless, [inaudible] was stupid, that why he ended in their hands—

Sarah Koenig

Oh, like he like he was a dummy.

Sami Yousafzai

—end up in their hands.

Sarah Koenig

OK.

Sami Yousafzai

Otherwise, you know, he would not ... this was really something, you know, somebody coming and jumping in your bike.

Sarah Koenig

Was he scared? Like, did he say—

Sami Yousafzai

Well—

Sarah Koenig

—what his aspect was?

Sami Yousafzai

Then he say he was scared. Sometime he was crying, sometime he was smiling. And we thought, what's happened to this guy? But most of time, he was silent. Anybody give him water, he was not drinking. And they said he was like a Buddha. Buddha's like, you know, the famous—

Sarah Koenig

Buddha, mm-hm.

Sami Yousafzai

—Afghanistan Bamiyan Buddha, you know, statues. So—

Sarah Koenig

Like a statue, OK.

Sami Yousafzai

[Inaudible] Not really reacting to what was going on around him. We thought he's drunk, huh?

Sarah Koenig

Oh, they did?

Sami Yousafzai

Yeah, apparently the ... I mean, they drop him in the water somewhere to release his drunkenness. They thought he was drunk, but he was not drunk.

Sarah Koenig

Hilal told Sami that to be fair, he'd never actually seen a drunk person. But apparently they tend to think all Westerners are drunk.

Bowe Bergdahl

From that point forward, that was survival mode, and I knew I had to, you know, I had to be extremely careful. If I was going to survive that, I knew I had to be extremely careful at what points in time I decided to push.

Mark Boal

Yeah.

Sarah Koenig

That's Bowe talking to Mark on the phone. Of course, yes, Bowe was scared. It was only rational to be scared. When the Taliban guys explained to Sami how they kidnapped Bowe, they kind of wax romantic sometimes or crack jokes. There's a swashbuckling quality to Sami's notes from these interviews. But then you remember Bowe himself. He's completely at their mercy. He's terrified, for excellent reason. He's in the hands of people who conduct public executions, mass beheadings, and often film them for propaganda.

Bowe Bergdahl

Doesn't matter how many kung fu movies you watch, doesn't matter how long you're a martial arts fighter or whatever, you have to be realistic when you're facing those type of people, you know?

Mark Boal

Sure, yeah.

Bowe Bergdahl

You know, these people, they have no hesitation. They have no problem killing you.

Mark Boal

Yeah.

Bowe Bergdahl

They will kill you just for the amusement of being able to shoot you, you know?

Mark Boal

Yeah.

Sarah Koenig

Bowe says there was one guy in the convoy who spoke a little English, and he asked Bowe questions: Was Bowe a big commander? Was he an intelligence officer?

Mark Boal

You said, "No, I'm not."

Bowe Bergdahl

Yeah, it was ... what was that?

Mark Boal

You said, "No, I'm not."

Bowe Bergdahl

Yeah. Yeah, I said, "No, I'm not."

Mark Boal

Did you tell did you explain to them why you were out there?

Bowe Bergdahl

Like, the exact reason why I was out there?

Mark Boal

Yeah.

Bowe Bergdahl

Yeah, that came out, more or less. In a version that was more suitable for the situation.

Mark Boal

What did you say?

Bowe Bergdahl

I told them I basically was fed up with, um, the commanders. You have to remember this is kind of going through—this is being filtered to the point that, you know, I'm trying to get guys who barely speak English to understand what I'm saying.

Mark Boal

Yeah, totally.

Bowe Bergdahl

So, um so ... the story was basically along the lines that I was fed up with American commanders because they were, like, disrespectful. But that didn't work, um, because they didn't understand what disrespectful was. So I came up with "rude," and they seemed to understand what "rude" was, for some strange reason.

Sarah Koenig

Bowe says his memories from that time are sort of thin, in large part because he says he was blindfolded. He was focused on what was happening to him minute to minute, trying to comprehend his circumstances and how he could possibly reverse them.

Bowe Bergdahl

They rode me around from a couple of different places, and then finally they got me to a small village, I guess. Then they pulled me off the motorcycle and sat me down on the ground, and one of the guys came up—I guess, I don't know, I'm guessing it was like his younger brother or his younger buddy, or something like that.

And he had his cellphone out, and he's taking a video of me. And his buddy was like sitting off to the side, and he was like, didn't say anything else, he was just like, "American?" And I just shook my head, and then he slapped me. And then did that a few times. All they wanted was the video.

And then after they were done and they put the blindfold back on, and they threw a blanket over my head, and then they ... I don't know where they went, but then little kids started throwing rocks at me. And I kind of pretended to like flinch from one of the rocks hitting me in the head, which kind of allowed me to shift my weight. And I was trying to get my hands from behind my back and pull them around, so I could get them in front of me.

Sarah Koenig

That didn't work. So then Bowe tried to lean forward so he could use his knee to move the cloth off of his face.

Bowe Bergdahl

I kind of got it to the point where it was half off my left eye, almost. I mean, I still had a blanket on my head. And nobody was really stopping me, and I didn't hear any voices, so I thought, this is the best it's probably going to get, so I just stood up and bolted.

Sarah Koenig

Bowe says he didn't get more than maybe 20 or 30 feet before he was tackled by what felt like the entire village. That was day one of his captivity.

By 2009 in Afghanistan, the U.S. forces and the Taliban had been fighting for seven years. And in all that time, there'd never been a situation like this, an American soldier captured. It was a new kind of crisis.

But each side also knew who they were dealing with. They could anticipate what each other's moves would be. In those first few days, the U.S. knew that whoever had Bowe would be moving him constantly, because the longer you stay in one place, the more likely you are to get caught.

And they also knew that the Taliban's goal would be to get Bowe to a hideout in the tribal region of Western Pakistan, because Pakistan is like home base. Or, to put it in Tom and Jerry terms, Pakistan is the hole in the baseboard where Tom cannot go. Pakistan is a sovereign nation, our purported ally. We are not at war with Pakistan. So once Bowe's in Pakistan, we can't do much about it.

In Afghanistan, U.S. forces can go anywhere they want, can do almost anything they want. But in Pakistan, it's much, much harder for the U.S. military to operate.

Here's the other thing that happens once Bowe gets to Pakistan: he becomes much more valuable, because his captors don't have to get rid of him in a hurry. They can take their sweet time making the deal they want to make.

But of course the Taliban knew that the U.S. knew they'd head for Pakistan. So the Taliban did the opposite. Instead of heading straight east to the Pakistan border, the Taliban guy Sami talked to said they first took Bowe west, to Ghazni province, where Mujahid Rahman lived.

Interpreter

Yeah, can you hear me, or should I should move?

Sarah Koenig

Sami Yousafzai put us in contact with Rahman. He'd already interviewed him a year earlier for Page One. For this interview, Sami had a car pick Rahman up. They talked to me on a burner cell phone from inside the car, which was parked in a residential neighborhood known to be fairly safe.

Did he disappear?

Man

Yeah.

Sarah Koenig

The call dropped about a half dozen times during our interview. Mujahid Rahman told me by the time Bergdahl came to him, the plan was already set. A Taliban commander named Qari Ismael Sulemanzai had taken charge of Bowe and had arranged to deliver him to a group known as the Haqqani network in Pakistan.

In the meantime, Mujahid Rahman's orders were to keep Bowe alive and out of sight for a couple of days and nights, until the pressure on the border eased a little and they could sneak Bowe across. By the time Rahman took charge of the motorcycle convoy—about eight people, he said—it was obvious to the Taliban that U.S. forces were pouring into eastern Afghanistan to search for Bowe.

Mujahid Rahman

[Speaking Pashto]

Interpreter

Of course, we could see this massive search, and the ground search, and also the airplanes. And that was the reason we were moving around hour by hour, we were changing locations, and we were even changing Bergdahl's dress, and we were even changing our dress. And at one point, we came in a close contact with American ground forces, like 500 meters, while Bergdahl was with us.

Sarah Koenig

Hilal told Sami that at one point, his convoy had come within a kilometer of FOB Sharana, where Bowe's own battalion was based. But even if Bowe had wanted to scream or make a commotion, he couldn't have. His hands were tied, and Rahman said he had a large cloth wrapped around his head, partly to disguise him, but partly just to keep the dust off his face. They all wore them against the dust.

Rahman says these were probably the most stressful two days of any mission he'd ever done. Qari Ismael stayed in constant contact with his guy in Pakistan from the Haqqani network. Rahman said they used fake names and locations over the walkie talkies to confuse the Americans, but that U.S. forces tracked them anyway.

Interpreter

And there were occasions when we stayed in a location, and then two or three hours later, American forces came to that place, to that house, and searched that house.

Sarah Koenig

By this time, of course, word had spread all over the region that a U.S. soldier had gone missing. The military air-dropped leaflets saying, quote, "one of our American guests is missing," and gave a phone number to call.

Another one, handed out about two weeks after Bowe disappeared, was less gentle. It showed armed Western forces kicking in a door. A news report translated the text as, quote, "if you do not free the American soldier, you will be targeted." The army claimed the leaflet said "hunted," not "targeted," which actually sounds scarier to me.

They also distributed chocolate. Sami Yousafzai interviewed some of the people who lived in or near Mest and Sharana at the time, and they remember the chocolate wrapped in shiny paper. They also remember helicopters all over the place, and that the Americans were saying Bergdahl's name, or at least a word that had a B sound in it.

Man

[Speaking Pashto]

Man

[Speaking Pashto]

Sarah Koenig

The people Sami talked to said they'd heard the missing soldier had been wandering around drunk when the Taliban grabbed him. Just as Hilal had suspected. That was a common rumor, that Bowe was drunk, or that he'd gone to a holy site, or that he tried to fight off the Taliban with karate.

In classified U.S. military communications released to the public by WikiLeaks, there's all this chatter on the ground that first week after Bowe went missing. On July 1, 2009, the day after Bowe disappears, an LLVI traffic report—LLVI stands for low level voice intercept, it's technology we use to eavesdrop on enemy voice or data communications—it picks up this conversation. Quote, "Is that true, that they captured an American guy?" "Yes, they did. He is alive. There's nowhere he can go. LOL."

I asked a former soldier who regularly read such messages what LOL means in this context, and he said the only meaning that seemed plausible to him was "laugh out loud."

Then, a few hours later, there's this intercept" "We were attacking the post. He was sitting taking expletive and had no gun with him. He was taking expletive. He has not cleaned his butt yet. I think he's a big shot. That's why they're looking for him," unquote.

Mujahid Rahman of course understood Bowe was a U.S. soldier, but he didn't know precisely what kind. He said the intensity of the search did suggest Bowe was a big shot, since why would they put all that effort and money into looking for him if he wasn't important?

Rahman said he'd heard foreign soldiers were sometimes trained in martial arts, so at first he and his men were very careful around their prisoner. But pretty soon, Rahman says, his main impression of Bowe was that he was just really scared.

Mujahid Rahman

[Speaking Pashto]

Interpreter

He couldn't even eat. He couldn't drink or sleep. And because he was thinking that what type of people we might be, or what are we going to do with him, are we going to kill him, and are we going to behead him, or what are we going to do with him? So that was his situation. He was very scared, and weak and confused.

Sarah Koenig

Rahman said he didn't feel sorry for Bowe. He didn't think of him as innocent. From his point of view, Bowe was like all U.S. soldiers. He'd traveled halfway around the world voluntarily to invade their country and kill Muslims.

But Rahman, and most of the guys Sami interviewed, they also talk about how Bowe was their guest, how humane they were with them. Which was a little jarring to hear. I mean, tying your guest to the back of a motorcycle against his will doesn't sound like great host behavior.

But Sami explained to me they're not being ironic. In Pashtun culture, a guest is always treated with generosity and respect. And so the fact that Bowe was labeled a guest in this situation made it clear to the lower down guys under Qari Ismael's command that they're not allowed to kill him, or even beat the crap out of him—which Rahman said was a real concern, that some al-Qaeda or Taliban fighters, especially if they'd had family members killed by Americans, might try to kill Bowe, or to kidnap him for themselves.

One of the LLVI messages from July first—the day after Bowe left—reads: "Unidentified male says, quote, 'cut the head off,' unquote."

Rahman himself had been a prisoner of the Americans. He said he was held at Bagram for about two years. And he said he made sure to treat Bowe better than he'd been treated. Quote, "someone who is in your custody," he said, "you treat him nicely," unquote.

At one point, Rahman says they stopped the convoy in what he calls a wine field, like a grape orchard. They'd gone there to hide from U.S. helicopters. And Rahman said while they were there, they tried to help Bowe out, to make him feel better.

Interpreter

Just to boost his morale and to cheer him up, we stopped at this winery, and we did this little dance, a traditional dance called attan, for him, so he can start eating.

Sarah Koenig

An attan is an Afghan dance where typically there's a drum and you move in a circle in unison. So yeah, apparently they did one for this frightened American soldier in a grape orchard.

Did it work? Did it boost his morale and get him to eat?

Mujahid Rahman

[Speaking Pashto]

Mujahid Rahman

[Speaking Pashto]

Interpreter

No, it did not help. It did not help at all. And it even had an adverse effect on him, because he did not know why we were doing that.

Mujahid Rahman

[Speaking Pashto]

Bowe Bergdahl

In a grape orchard?

Sarah Koenig

That's Bowe.

Bowe Bergdahl

Uh, no.

Sarah Koenig

Bowe says he has no memory of this event, that he's never seen an attan, except in a video the Taliban showed him much later.

Kenneth Wolfe was Command Sergeant Major of the 501st back when Bowe disappeared, the battalion's highest ranking non-commissioned officer. He said at first he thought they'd find Bowe.

Kenneth Wolfe

And I told the Colonel, I said, you know what? I'm going to stick around here for a few days, because if we find him, I want to be on the helicopter that picks him up. And he was like, why? And I go, they're going to whip his ass.

Sarah Koenig

Meaning Bowe's fellow soldiers are going to whip his ass. Wolfe wasn't wrong to worry about that.

Daryl Hansen

If we would've found him, I think a lot of us would have shot him if that tells you anything.

Sarah Koenig

That's Daryl Hansen, one of Bowe's platoon mates.

Daryl Hansen

I truly say that with sincerity, that we had that much hate towards him.

Mark McCrorie

We hated him. Absolutely hated him.

Sarah Koenig

That's Mark McCrorie, a specialist in the 501st, but in a different company from Bowe.

Mark McCrorie

It was like, well, if we see him, he's not going to last.

Sarah Koenig

Like seriously, or just kind of blustery, like I'm really pissed?

Mark McCrorie

Well, hmm.

Sarah Koenig

Or do you really think it's possible he could've—

Mark McCrorie

Yeah.

Sarah Koenig

—gotten? You do?

Mark McCrorie

Yeah.

Sarah Koenig

Wow.

Mark McCrorie

I mean, I don't know what kind of light that sheds on us, but it was one of those things where the conversation had come up.

Sarah Koenig

I found this shocking and disturbing, that some of these guys were saying they might have killed Bowe if they'd found him. But now, after interviewing more than a dozen soldiers, I still don't sympathize with wanting to kill him, but I do understand why their anger was so extreme. I get it.

The DUSTWUN search and recovery operations lasted officially for 45 days, and some people contend it went on even longer. But the most frantic time, the soldier said, was those first few weeks. They told me the search for Bowe started in the immediate vicinity of where he went missing, from OP Mest in eastern Afghanistan.

Right away, a nine-man foot patrol headed out from the OP toward a boy's school in Malak. Lieutenant JP Billings, Bowe's platoon leader, says they came across a boy who told Billings, yes, he had seen an American in a field that morning. And he gave a specific time, 6:02 AM. He pulled up his sleeve to shows his Casio watch.

There were a bunch of reports like this, of boys saying they'd seen an American low crawling on the ground, or nearly fainting from dehydration. A couple of reports noted that they were also giving out candy to the kids. In one instance, the kid got some Pop Tarts.

Which is notable. An army report on Bowe's disappearance suggests maybe it was our initial search, maybe even this first patrol, that led to Bowe's capture. That the soldiers handing out candy and asking these questions tipped the kids off, and ultimately the adults, and then the Taliban, that an American was missing, and so they went out looking for him and grabbed him.

Which supports what Bowe says—that the Taliban rode right up to him on motorbikes.

Bowe says he hadn't told anyone what he planned to do, so no one in his unit or his battalion has any idea why he left. How could they? All they have to go on is whatever early intel is coming in.

Austin Lanford

I don't remember where I heard it from, but I remember hearing that he was in the town asking if people spoke English, and then that's where he was nabbed.

Sarah Koenig

That's Austin Lanford, another of Bowe's platoon mates.

A bunch of people I spoke to remember a report like this coming over the transom. Here's where I think they probably got it: In the WikiLeaks release from the day Bowe went missing, there's an entry saying they picked up LLVI traffic indicating, quote, "that an American soldier is talking and is looking for someone who speaks English. American soldier has camera," unquote. Which conjures an image of Bowe seeking contact, or maybe help.

But several people who know how military intel works told me these LLVI reports can be tricky. They're quick translations of overheard chatter, nuances lost, mistranslations are not uncommon. So, for what it's worth.

The search for Bowe was enormous. By the late afternoon of June 30, 2009, it had ballooned. Word goes out that, quote, "all operations will cease until missing soldier is found. All assets will be focused on the DUSTWUN situation and sustainment operations," unquote.

They would search all of Paktika province, and neighboring Paktiya province too, and into Ghazni province and Khost, thousands of square miles. Anything they needed to make it happen, they got: planes, helicopters, drones, interpreters, elite units, special forces.

Hundreds of people stopped what they were doing. Even if your job is to look for Osama bin Laden, now, you were going to look for the DUSTWUN. They were snapping into action because of a basic ground floor principle of the army, you do not leave anyone out there in a war zone.

The military knew that the first 24 to 48 hours would be the most critical period if they were going to find him. Based on some fancy intel, they understood pretty quickly that Bowe had been captured. And they knew whoever had him would be on the move, and therefore talking on radios or phones the whole time, trying to figure out their own next steps. So if you can intercept that chatter, you can maybe geolocate where Bowe might be.

So battalion command requests as much signals intelligence as it can get. And then, of course, needs more soldiers to check out all that intel. Five more platoons join the search, then eight more platoons. The entire brigade gets pulled in. One commander told me it was like a mini surge.

Jon Thurman

Our operational tempo went from sort of casual presence patrols, driving around handing out stuff, cordoning IEDs till EOD came out.

Sarah Koenig

This is Jon Thurman. He was in Blackfoot company, Bowe's company, different platoon.

Jon Thurman

to, I mean, nonstop. It was around the clock. We'd be kicking in doors one minute, setting up a blocking position and searching every single car an hour later.

Sarah Koenig

A blocking position was basically a roadblock. The official mission in Afghanistan in 2009 was counterinsurgency, COIN for short. American forces were supposed to be containing the insurgents, but also training Afghan security forces. They were supposed to be engaging the locals, gaining their trust, improving infrastructure. All that pretty much stopped now.

Here's Mark McCrorie.

Mark McCrorie

Sure, there had been fights that had been going on, but they weren't fights that we were picking. The bad guys would come to us, and we'd fight them off, you know? Whereas this was us going out every night looking for a guy, smashing down their door.

Jon Thurman

We were just looking and looking and looking.

Sarah Koenig

Jon Thurman again.

Jon Thurman

I mean, towns, I don't even know if these towns had seen Americans ever.

Ben Evans

OK, now we're going to fly you into this Bedouin village, and you're going to go check every single building and room, and check all the women's faces to make sure that they're not hiding him in women's clothing.

Sarah Koenig

That's Ben Evans, a specialist from Charlie Company. He said there'd been intel that they'd dressed Bowe as a woman, which at times Bowe says they did.

Ben Evans

And so we went into this house, and whenever you would go into a house to do a search, all the women would typically huddle into one corner together. And normally, we wouldn't pay them any mind, just to leave them be, you know? But at that point, we kind of had to walk over, and I had to—I mimicked removing your veil. Remove your veil so we can see.

Sarah Koenig

This kind of stuff, making women lift their veils or kicking in doors, doesn't exactly endear you to the local populace. But they didn't have time to worry about that right now. Any little fragment of actionable intelligence—they're moving him in a white truck, they're handing him over to someone at this location—they didn't have the luxury to ignore any of it.

You can see on paper, in those WikiLeaks releases, all the scrambling that was going on those first few days. From June 30th, 2009, the day Bowe left: "Update, 1-40 Cav has intel that Taliban is planning to move the U.S. pax—pax means person or passenger—to Gardez."

Next day, July first: "Update, Delaware 3-6 reports they have received intel that the body of the missing U.S. soldier is due east of their current position." July 4: "Update: spot report, missing U.S. soldier was last seen in a village at grid location VB 611 818. A bag was covering his head and he was wearing dark khaki apparel." And so on, day after day.

Here's Mark McCrorie.

Mark McCrorie

Apparently, at one point these guys said they intercepted a phone call where it was one member of the Taliban speaking to another, and they said, hey, the Americans are right outside. And we've got this guy with us. And so that trickles all the way up and then all the way back down. Everybody freeze. Hold what you've got. Stay where you are, set out an outer cordon and search wherever everybody is. But by the time the information had traveled all the way up the chain and all the way back down, it was already too late.

Sarah Koenig

Despite the massive resources at their disposal, the Americans were at a certain disadvantage in that landscape, because any movement of US forces in giant armored trucks or in helicopters or whatever, makes a lot of noise, kicks up a lot of dust. The Taliban could be more nimble, skirting around on small roads or paths, often on motorcycles, as soon as they saw or heard that the enemy was coming their way.

Daryl Hansen

I mean, like, literally, we were charging into these towns, just running out of our trucks. Like, he's in here, we're running to this qalat.

Sarah Koenig

That's Daryl Hansen again. A qalat is a kind of compound.

Daryl Hansen

Just going in with guns waving. In fact, I'll never forget. We ran in, and as we're running in, this freaking cow has a baby like right next to me. Just out comes—it scared the hell out of the cow, it just had its baby right there. [Laughing] So yeah, it was very intense, yeah. Just we were always, it seemed like, one day behind where he's at.

Sarah Koenig

The Americans were certainly on the right track. The battalion leadership met with a local Afghan leader, who reported that Bowe had been turned over to the local Taliban leader, Qari Ismael, just like Hilal told Sami. And the U.S. was pretty sure those Taliban guys would turn Bowe over to the Haqqanis in Pakistan, in North Waziristan, to be precise.

They'd also gotten intel that Bowe might be in Ghazni, just like Mujahid Rahman said. In factor, Rahman told me that a few days after he returned from delivering Bowe to Pakistan, he got rolled up by the Americans, detained and questioned about Bowe. Rahman said everyone was getting questioned about Bowe, people from down south in Kandahar and from out west in Herat.

But here, the U.S. had in front of them the very man who had shepherded Bowe to the Haqqanis. Here's what Rahman told them.

Mujahid Rahman

[Speaking Pashto]

Interpreter

I have not seen this person. And I don't know this person. And I haven't heard of him. So that was my reply all the time to the Americans.

Sarah Koenig

Pulling into towns you're unfamiliar with based on single-source intelligence or conflicting intelligence, with almost no time to prepare your team for what's awaiting them, it's risky. In a more typical operation, you mitigate the danger, maximize the chance for success by doing everything you can in advance to do what's called "shape the battlefield." And you might take a few days to plan and prepare.

Now, commanders were lucky if they got a few hours. Sometimes they felt like they were winging it. A special operations commander told me his team went on more than 50 missions looking for Bowe, and many of those were during the day, rather than at night, when his guys have the advantage. Quote, "we don't work in the day," he said.

Major Mike Waltz was commander of a Special Forces company. He was in charge of seven Green Beret and one Navy SEAL team. He took over the command on June 30, the same day Bowe left. While infantry soldiers were out searching cars or going house to house in villages, Waltz says his teams were conducting raids, usually at night, targeting specific compounds or houses where they had intel Bowe either was or had been.

Michael Waltz

Any shred of evidence that Bergdahl had been there, we thought he was there, a sighting. It wasn't really vetted, it wasn't buttressed by other types of reporting. There was just no time to check on it. We just went. And I can't emphasize, I can't overemphasize how dangerous that is.

Sarah Koenig

Waltz says there's one mission that still freaks him out. His men went to Ghazni. He says most of his missions were ordered in Ghazni. And they had information that a young white male surrounded by fighters had been seen in a particular compound that day. So as fast as they could, they got the helicopters together, they headed out there. Didn't have time to substantiate anything. They arrive and walk into the compound to find the whole thing is booby trapped.

Michael Waltz

The team went in and looked up and saw the ceiling lined with C-4—

Sarah Koenig

Oh my god.

Michael Waltz

And then there was also a car bomb with the trunk packed with explosives sitting in the middle of the compound. Now, by the grace of God, they evacuated before the thing could go off, and it never did, but I would've easily lost 20 to 30 American Green Berets that night had that thing gone off.

And it quickly became very apparent to us that the Taliban knew, and our sources began telling us, that the Taliban and the Haqqani network knew that we were pulling out all the stops to find him, and were feeding false information into our informant networks.

Sarah Koenig

All right. You've got the most advanced military in the world throwing all this effort, all this expertise and technology, and trying to find one person. They do pull out all the stops just to get one soldier back. That's really something.

But then, they can't find him. And not only that, in some instances, they're being played by the enemy, lured into traps. What is going on? I don't quite understand if we should be impressed by this operation, or dismayed.

I asked a guy named Jason Dempsey to answer this question for me. At the time Bowe disappeared, Jason was a Major in the 10th Mountain Division. An operations officer, meaning he planned military operations, for a battalion based in Logar province, just north of Paktika and Paktiya.

I've interviewed Jason a couple of times now, and what I've learned is that he's very smart, and that he can't stop fidgeting, can't sit still.

Jason Dempsey

If we're ostensibly conducting counterinsurgency in 2000—[Water running] Sorry about that. Forgot the background noise.

Sarah Koenig

[Laughing] Are you washing your ... are you washing dishes?

Jason Dempsey

Yeah.

Sarah Koenig

Jason's got a Ph.D. and has taught at West Point. He's done tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and he's thought a lot about what we did and didn't accomplish in Afghanistan. He is not surprised we didn't find Bowe.

When I think about what was happening, I just have this image of like this big machine that's like moving around in this region in Afghanistan, and there's just like a mouse running through the legs of the machine. Or like, I don't know, an AT-AT on Star Wars, you know?

Jason Dempsey

That's a great way to put it.

Sarah Koenig

Luke comes with his little thing, and he ties up the legs and it falls over. I mean, and I know that's not fair, but—

Jason Dempsey

That's absolutely true, and it's a great analogy, right? You've got this big lumbering machine moving through that can destroy anything face-on, but it can't get—it has no idea on a granular level what's below it.

Sarah Koenig

Jason says what's down there on the ground are towns we don't understand, where regular people and government officials and the Taliban are impossibly enmeshed. Where civilians might hate the Taliban, but they might hate the Karzai government even more. So it's not clear at all that the U.S. is the team to root for, to help. It's not as simple as these people are loyal to our side, and those people are loyal to their side. It's fluid.

And at that time, in that part of Afghanistan, we just didn't understand the incredibly complicated politics of these towns.

Jason Dempsey

You know, we can target or track individual networks, but we never were really able to tie in, OK, which towns and villages and people who you know, their relatives, who were happy to give them safe passage, or—

Sarah Koenig

Really, like—

Jason Dempsey

You know, communities they can walk through easily.

Sarah Koenig

Even after—even after seven years of war at this point, we don't know the networks well enough?

Jason Dempsey

No. And remember, when you say seven years of war, it means we rotated a few thousand dudes through there every 7 to 12 months. There is no institutional knowledge with the U.S. military in Afghanistan, nearly none. We never were there long enough to actually get engaged with—and this applies, unfortunately, after 2010 as well. We've never had anybody fully engaged at all levels with Afghan politics.

Sarah Koenig

But Jason said that's the whole thing right there, the spider web of connections we never could untangle. We'd come into Afghanistan in 2001 and ousted the Taliban, and we did a pretty good job of that through 2003. But then afterwards, Jason said our mission languished, and the Taliban used the intervening years to refresh and regroup, to learn how we operate, how we track them. And now they were pushing back into the country in a big way, in exactly this region, Paktika, Paktiya, Khost, right where Bowe goes missing.

But that's what the soldiers of the 501st were up against. They were total outsiders looking for their guy and knowing their chances of finding him were diminishing every day that passed. Clint Baker, Commander of the 1st Battallion of the 501st, said it was as high risk an operation as he's ever had, in part because there was no clear end point.

At a military hearing he testified, quote, "and I mean frankly, I felt a bit at a loss on, you know, what to do. In my entire time in the army, I can't think of a time where I felt that kind of adversity, just period, and really did not, you know, was unable to overcome it," unquote. The relentlessness was what was so crushing.

Here's Jon Thurman, and then Daryl Hansen.

Jon Thurman

It got to the point where sleep, I mean, sort of became a distant reality.

Daryl Hansen

Just 24 hours a day, seven days a week. No sleep, no nothing. You just ran out of juice. All the guys are just miserable, and it's just like hell on earth, you know?

Sarah Koenig

Of course, Afghanistan was dangerous and conditions were rough before Bowe left also. But now, because operation tempo was roughly doubled or even tripled in some cases, there was just more contact with the danger.

Blackfoot 3rd Platoon, for instance, hit three IEDs in one day. Major Silvino S. Silvino testified that the battalion's MRAPS, those huge armored trucks that are built to sustain IED explosions, that about 80 percent of them were damaged during this search period, and about half the damage was caused by IEDs. Their four mine rollers, all destroyed.

And those numbers are one way to quantify the danger and the damage. But a full reckoning of the consequences, including the enormous question of whether people were wounded or died looking for Bowe, would come publicly much later, after Bowe came home.

I saw some pictures Daryl Hansen took from that time. One shows him and another guy standing next to a carcass on a spit.

Is that a goat?

Daryl Hansen

Yes, that's a goat. [Laughs]

Sarah Koenig

What was going on in that picture?

Daryl Hansen

Um—

Sarah Koenig

What's going on is they were tired of MREs, so they'd buy a goat off a local farmer, had some meat that wasn't vacuum packed. Some of these units couldn't go back to their FOBs for what's called refit—where you clean and resupply your equipment, you shower, you get a hot meal—for weeks on end.

Second Platoon, Bowe's platoon, they got sent out for 19 days straight. So that's outside the wire, living in trucks or just on the ground, for nearly three weeks doing nonstop missions. Another platoon from Charlie Company was sent out for 37 days straight.

You've got all your gear on, full battle rattle, and it weighs between 60 and 100 pounds, depending on what kind of weapon you're carrying, or whether you're a radio operator who has to have extra batteries. It might be 90 degrees during the day, or 100 degrees. At night, the temperature might drop by as much as 30 degrees.

Major Silvino said in a military hearing that the men would huddle together at night to keep warm. Quote, "they would literally, I'll call it spoon," unquote.

JP Billings was one of the people who was out for 19 days straight. He testified that he'd gotten diarrhea early, and quote, "you know, I'd shit my pants," unquote. He did have an extra pair, but it had ripped up the inside leg on some concertina wire. Quote, "so knowing that I was going out and talking to locals, potentially females and whatever, in villages, I couldn't necessarily have an exposed region like that on my pants," unquote.

So Billings wore the shit pants for 19 days. People's t-shirts got shredded. Their socks rotted. People got sores on their skin. They could only wash with baby wipes, and maybe bottled water.

Kenneth Wolfe

Undergarments falling off of them.

Sarah Koenig

Oh, really?

Kenneth Wolfe

Yeah. Clothes, like something you would think of in Malaysia or Burma, clothes just falling apart.

Sarah Koenig

That's Ken Wolfe, the Command Sergeant Major. The hard part was they hadn't planned for this. No one knew how long the search was going to go on.

Kenneth Wolfe

Yeah, eventually, because we had to start figuring it out. How are we going to rotate guys back in? How do we resupply them? Because they're everywhere. Our guys are everywhere. They're spread out everywhere. I mean, it was just complete—just a logistics nightmare.

And then, also, it wasn't just our battalion. The other battalions within the organization were looking for him too. And so, you know, how does it make you feel when you've walked for 15 days straight looking for a guy who walked off, and he's not even in your unit? And so you see somebody and they're like, hey man, fuck you. We're out here looking for this guy?

Sarah Koenig

Maybe you're thinking all this complaining about how hard that time was, cry me a river. They're soldiers, and it's war, and this is what they signed up for. Well, yes and no. Their job was to go find and rescue one of their own. They knew that, and they accepted it. It was the right thing to do, to go look for him, and they genuinely wanted to find him. But they also knew, or were at least pretty confident, that Bowe had left Mest OP voluntarily, and now they felt like they were going through hell on his behalf. And it wasn't just Bowe's own platoon doing it, but other platoons from other battalions.

Most of the people I talked to about this time, they said this search inflicted such major damage on morale, which can be a delicate thing to maintain in the best of times.

At the end of July, about a month in, Major Larry Glasscock, the battalion's executive officer, went on leave back to Fort Richardson in Alaska, where the battalion is based. His boss had asked him to meet with a group of soldiers' family members, who knew that their soldiers were out looking for Bergdahl.

Larry Glasscock

The families knew that we were conducting significant operations, and that we were stepping up our kinetic activities against insurgents to try and find him. So they knew that the risk in Afghanistan for our battalion had increased.

And it was a tough, tough meeting. There was a lot of concern, there were a lot of scared wives—rightfully so. They wanted answers, and they wanted comfort. They wanted to know that their husband was going to be OK. And, you know, I'm not in a position to make those kinds of promises.

Sarah Koenig

Shane Cross was in Bowe's platoon. He was friendly with Bowe.

Shane Cross

Yeah, I still I think I'm still angry about it.

Sarah Koenig

Shane was out on that 19 day stint with the platoon. When they finally made it back to the FOB on July 20, it would be for only a few hours, it turned out, rather than the day or two they'd hoped for, Shane shot himself in the foot with his 9 millimeter pistol when he was in the bathroom and got sent home. Shane said it was an accident. He said the army agreed.

But the other guys saw it as a statement, about how beaten down they all were, how they'd had enough. Commanders said they could see in their faces how emotionally busted their soldiers were, how angry. They were starting to bicker with each other. Major Silvino testified that he'd given them pep talks, but, quote, "I could hear, well, you know, mumbling, mumbling, grumbling, grumbling, expletives, blah, blah, blah," unquote.

As the weeks went on, they started to hit more and more dry holes. They'd air assault into some village or target and they'd find nothing.

I asked Ken Wolfe how he tried to keep morale up. Ken, to me, seems like the kind of guy who can scare the crap out of you and also hug you in the same encounter. Ken told me he tried whatever he could to get his soldiers through, including asking his wife to send over Copenhagen snuff from the States, which she did. She bought rolls and rolls of it, and Ken passed it around.

Kenneth Wolfe

I remember talking to see a group of guys, and I go, hey, we don't know—we don't know everything at this point. We don't know. And then, you know, this is our mission. He's one of our guys. We've got to find him. We're going to do it. So that was one way. The other way, you know, giving out cans of Copenhagen, telling dirty jokes, putting people in the headlock. That's how you do it.

Sarah Koenig

Just being affectionate with them, basically?

Kenneth Wolfe

Yeah, and saying, hey, what you're doing is good and honorable, and we just got to keep looking.

Sarah Koenig

Yeah.

Kenneth Wolfe

And knowing in the back of my mind, this is fucking bullshit.

Sarah Koenig

In what way was it bullshit?

Kenneth Wolfe

Because he's in Pakistan. [Laughs]

Sarah Koenig

It's true. Bowe was in Pakistan.

Man

What's the date today?

Bowe Bergdahl

It's July 14 of 2009.

Sarah Koenig

This is the first hostage video the Taliban released of Bowe.

Man

What's your name?

Bowe Bergdahl

My name is Bowe Bergdahl.

Sarah Koenig

Bowe would spend the next year figuring out how to escape. Next time on Serial.

Serial is produced by Julie Snyder, Dana Chivvis, and me, in partnership with Mark Boal, Megan Ellison, Hugo Lindgren, Jessica Weisberg, Page One, and Annapurna Pictures. Ira Glass is our editorial adviser.

Editing help this week from Joel Lovell and Brian Reed. Whitney Dangerfield is our digital editor. Research by Kevin Garnett. Fact checking by Michelle Harris. Copy editing by Anaheed Alani.

Our music is composed by Nick Thorburn, Mark Phillips, and Fritz Myers. The show is mixed by Kate Bilinski. Kristen Taylor is our community editor.

Production help this week from Nancy Updike and Nora Khojesta Herstein.

Other Serial staff: Seth Lind, Emily Condon, Elise Bergerson, and Kimberly Henderson.

Special thanks this week to International Mapping, Thomas Barfield, Dr. Conrad Crane, Bill Marsh, Leo Jung, Jonathan Marks, David Raphael, and Mark McCrery.

And special thanks to Pandora, where you can now also listen to Serial Seasons One and Two. Our website is serialpodcast.org, where you can listen to all our episodes, sign up for our newsletter, read articles by the Serial staff, and check out maps, videos, and more. You can also find a link to our Tumblr page, where you can submit questions to us and we will answer them.

Again, that's serialpodcast.org.

Serial is a production of This American Life and WBEZ Chicago.

Ira Glass

Coming up on the next episode of Serial.

Bowe Bergdahl

Like, the best description I can probably give you is if you took a literally not even an animal. Um, picture someone taking a bag, throwing it into the closet, shutting the door, and just forgetting about it.

Mark Boal

Right.

Bowe Bergdahl

That was basically how they treated me.

Correction: An earlier version of the episode and the transcript incorrectly identified the reporter who spoke to John McCain. The reporter was from the Boston Herald, not the Boston Globe.

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