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Transcript

Episode 08: Hindsight, Part 2

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.

Ira Glass

Previously on Serial.

Woman 1

Gentlemanly is a good word. He was very much a gentleman.

Bowe Bergdahl

Coast guard boot camp is, uh, still kind of the traditional boot camp.

Mark Boal

Do you think he's lying?

Sarah Koenig

Um...

Woman 2

And then, all of a sudden, he shows up in his uniform.

Sarah Koenig

Oh.

Woman 2

Yeah.

Sarah Koenig

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

This is episode eight. But if you haven't listened to episode seven yet, you should go back and do that first, because this is really a part two. In these two episodes, we're trying to answer the question of how walking off your outpost into Afghanistan might make sense if you're Bowe Bergdahl.

I think the following will likely be a question at Bowe's court-martial. Did the army screw up by accepting Bowe, by deploying him to Afghanistan? Just to remind you, Bowe was separated from the coast guard in 2006, after he became overwhelmed and had a break down during basic training. The army, in order to enlist him two years later, would have to waive its usual standards, which it did. So the question actually is, did the army recruiting process work like it was supposed to?

Bowe's separation from the coast guard wasn't labeled a psych discharge on paper, but that's essentially what it was. So, did the army miss something? We talked to a retired army psychiatrist, Dr. Elspeth Cameron Ritchie. She was deployed all over. She was chief of forensic psychiatry and also of inpatient psychiatry at Walter Reed. And she was psychiatry consultant to the army surgeon general, the top mental health advocacy position in the army.

Dr. Ritchie's assessment of how all this went down with Bowe? Eh, she thought the whole thing sounded pretty normal, like standard practice. The fact that the army didn't have all the details about Bowe's hospitalization in the coast guard—not uncommon. She said getting access to more detailed medical information, especially between branches of the military—in this case, coast guard and army—was hard because the military's network system wasn't so hot. Information sharing was incomplete.

But she also didn't feel like anything we told her about Bowe's coast guard situation would have been disqualifying, even if the army had known and had sent him for a mental health evaluation as the coast guard doctor had recommended. Even if Bowe had been assessed by, say, an army psychiatrist, Dr. Ritchie said it probably would have been one session. And unless he showed obvious outward signs of psychosis or something like that, you're really depending on the potential recruit to self-report any psychological problems. So it's quite possible Bowe would have been OK'd regardless.

At the end of the day, Dr. Ritchie told us, the best assessment for whether someone's going to make it in the army doesn't happen in the recruitment office anyway—it happens during the sustained, high pressure test of basic training. And Bowe did really well in army basic training. So that's one view. Now for a second opinion.

Michael Valdovinos

Somewhere, the ball was dropped.

Sarah Koenig

This is Dr. Michael Valdovinos. He's a clinical psychologist. He was in the air force for about seven and a half years. And he worked in the SERE program, which teaches survival, evasion, resistance, and escape. He knows Bowe. In fact, Valdovinos led the SERE psych team that helped reintegrate Bowe right after his rescue, those first few weeks when Bowe was at the hospital in Germany.

Two things: Valdovinos has permission from Bowe to talk to me about their conversations. And also, he was not officially Bowe's doctor. His job was to reintegrate him, not diagnose him or anything. He never even saw Bowe's medical record back then. So he's not breaking any doctor-patient confidentiality.

Well, three things, I guess—the last being, Valdovinos cares about Bowe, so he's not dispassionate on the question of what happens to him. Valdovinos's view is that the army recruiter should have looked harder at Bowe's situation, should've asked more questions before signing him up. Even if the recruiter didn't have the particulars of Bowe's coast guard discharge in front of him or information about Bowe's hospitalization, he says the mere fact that Bowe had been separated at all from a branch of the military begged more scrutiny.

Michael Valdovinos

You know, it's a pretty big deal to get separated from the military. Um, at the very least, I would think that this recruiter would be a little bit more concerned about that and would have taken it maybe a few steps further to say, hey, let's make sure that this guy's a good fit for what he's about to get into.

Sarah Koenig

Because what a separation like Bowe's tells you, just on its face, is that, for whatever reason, this person couldn't hack it in basic training. And the army recruiter's job is to send that potential recruit straight back into basic training—in Bowe's case, the same situation he washed out of two years earlier.

Finally, Valdovinos says Bowe told him that the recruiter did know about his problems in the coast guard, because Bowe says he told the recruiter. Bowe said he was afraid not to tell him, since, you know, not a good idea to keep things from the government.

Michael Valdovinos

You know, and...and he said, "Yeah, I told them everything." And...and specifically, I said, "You told them exactly what happened when, you know, you broke down in training and, you know, went to the hospital and, you know, the incident in the barracks?" And he said, "Yes. You know, I told him all these things."

Sarah Koenig

As part of his application, Bowe did attest that he had not consulted with the behavioral health care provider in the last seven years. When General Dahl asked him about that, Bowe said the coast guard treatment, quote, "wouldn't have triggered the idea of consulting a psychologist," unquote. Dahl found that to be consistent with Bowe's other paperwork, since, on his medical history form, Bowe checked yes to the question of whether he'd ever received counseling of any type. He said he was thinking of counseling he'd had when he was 10 years old.

General Dahl concluded that the army recruiter, on paper, did everything he was supposed to—read the codes, followed the regulations. But in a footnote, Dahl seemed to agree that this system isn't good enough—that Bowe's situation probably should've been looked at more carefully. He wrote that when you're deciding whether to reenlist someone, few things are more relevant than a prior separation. He added, quote, "It seems inadequate that we would rely on an interview and an applicant statement to explain the details of prior service, and not review the separation action," unquote.

And where was Bowe's head at this time? It's funny: once you hear how Bowe thought about the military, why he wanted to join, oddly, it does help explain why he decided to walk off his post.

Mark Boal

Did you...did you think that you were going to be a career soldier?

Bowe Bergdahl

Um, this is where, you know, I'll admit that my mind did get lost in fantasy.

Mark Boal

OK.

Bowe Bergdahl

I wanted to be a soldier, but I wanted to be a soldier back then. I wanted to be World War II soldier.

Mark Boal

Right.

Bowe Bergdahl

I wanted to be, you know, 1800s soldier. You know, I wanted to be a samurai soldier, a fighter, warrior.

Mark Boal

Right.

Bowe Bergdahl

Um, I wanted to be...you know, more than anything, I wanted to be a kung-fu, you know, fighter.

Mark Boal

[CHUCKLES]

Bowe Bergdahl

Honestly. I love the idea of just, basically, your hands and that's it.

Mark Boal

Right.

Bowe Bergdahl

You know?

Sarah Koenig

Bowe loved Bruce Lee when he was a kid, thought he was cool. He watched his movies, later read his books. Bowe studied Asian warriors, especially samurai. He learned about the Bushido code, which stresses honor and loyalty and self-sacrifice.

In Bowe's childhood bedroom, his dad kept a collector's set of old army manuals, way up high on a bookshelf. He said his dad loved military history. Bowe climbed up there and got the books down. Even when he couldn't read, he'd study the pictures.

Bowe Bergdahl

So, you know, I...as far as being a soldier, in my mind, you know, I was...I was very much left in history. You know, but that's where I ended up getting the...having problems was because I wanted to be a soldier, but the only option I had was to be, you know, a modern soldier.

Sarah Koenig

Bowe's ideal soldier, the one from history, fights for a cause he or she is completely, personally committed to. That soldier rallies behind military leaders that he or she trusts. The modern soldier turns out to have no choice about those essential aspects of combat. Instead, he's a brainless private that does whatever the government tells him to do, go here, go there, go fight these people. He's just a tool. That's how Bowe saw it.

And the thing is, Bowe knew this was going to be the case when he signed up. He sort of knew it. He thought he could handle that gulf of meaning.

Bowe Bergdahl

I was aware of that problem. And that was something that I had to deal with every day.

Mark Boal

It's like, in order to play the game, you had to play by the rules as they were being—

Bowe Bergdahl

Exactly.

Mark Boal

As they were—

Bowe Bergdahl

But it doesn't mean you're not going to struggle every step of the way, you know? And that...that ended up happening.

Sarah Koenig

This is one of the things about Bowe. He at once recognizes that his expectations were unrealistic, that he sees things differently from other people. But at the same time, he will fiercely defend his vision of how things should be. He does not let go, especially when it comes to what he saw in Afghanistan.

Mark Boal

Do you think what you witnessed and what you were reacting to was the army in an especially bad way? Or was it just the army being itself and kind of messed up as it...you know, in a kind of average way? Does that make any sense?

Bowe Bergdahl

Yeah. Um, maybe it was normal. Maybe what I was looking at was simple everyday army. However, the way I was looking at it was, this is messed up. This shouldn't be like this. So irregardless of whether it was, you know, off the chart from regular stupidity, or if it was everyday stupidity, what I was looking at was problems. What I was looking at was things that needed to be fixed.

So to simply say, oh, well, that's just the normal everyday army life, and shrug it off and say who cares—that is a huge problem. That shouldn't be acceptable to anybody.

Sarah Koenig

Mark's conclusion about Bowe, after all those months of talking to him: He's not a conscientious objector. But he's also not your casual deserter who throws up his hands and just says, I don't care about any of this—I'm outta here. Mark thinks he's the opposite of that—that he's a rare person who will act—rightly or wrongly, it turns out—but still, he will act according to his principles. And his principles are wrapped up with the very institution that so many people now feel he betrayed.

Mark Boal

It's the disillusionment of somebody that really believes in the army. He's somebody that thinks that military leadership is a...a sacred position. He wants the army to be better.

Sarah Koenig

Right.

Mark Boal

The military is huge for him, right?

Sarah Koenig

Yeah.

Mark Boal

It represented something...there's got to be a better word than huge, but it represented something very powerful to him, even before he joined, and to his sense of himself as a man, to his relationship to his country, to all sorts of kind of big identity questions that were floating around for him.

And it's still really important to him. He still kind of wants his day of reckoning with those values. That's, in a way, why he hasn't taken the more pragmatic route through all of this, which would just be to sort of stick your hands out and say, "Whatever you guys say." Like, "Guilty. Just—"

Sarah Koenig

"Get me out of here."

Mark Boal

"Let's get this over with." Yeah.

Sarah Koenig

Yup.

Mark Boal

I think he doesn't want to cross the line of saying "I had no point."

Sarah Koenig

Which is not to say that Bowe wants all this attention on him now. He wasn't seeking this big an audience.

Mark Boal

And, by the way, he's not asking to be some kind of like Paul Revere. He just wanted...he didn't...Bowe never wanted the discussion that's happening now, right? His whole goal was to talk to...it was like an inter-family dispute. He wanted to talk to people in the military.

Sarah Koenig

Yeah.

Mark Boal

There was actually a reporter that was sent to...that was like embedded or something with his unit, that was hanging around there. And it's not like he pulled the reporter aside and said, "Hey, get a load of this. This will make a great story." He didn't do that. He wanted to be heard within the military.

So, obviously, that didn't happen. And obviously, he behaved in a way which runs counter to every single military precept ever known since the dawn of time, which is, you know, you don't...you don't walk away from your brother. So he's not a great messenger for his message, but, um, but that's also what makes it kind of interesting.

Sarah Koenig

In Bowe's case, no one saw it coming, him walking off like he did, because it's so unthinkable. But a few people say they did start to see signs that Bowe wasn't totally OK. At the September hearing in Bowe's case, Greg Leatherman, Bowe's weapons squad leader, testified that, at some point, he noticed something was up with Bowe.

Quote, "It started to kind of feel he wasn't adjusting to the deployment like the rest the guys were," unquote. Leatherman said he wasn't incredibly alarmed, but he figured he ought to say something to one of the higher-ups about it, just in case. One day, he's on a patrol, somewhere southeast of Sharana, and he finds himself sitting next to his first sergeant, Pablo Jimenez.

Quote, "And so I told First Sergeant that, you know, I thought that Sergeant Bergdahl should chat with somebody, you know, whether it be combat stress, or a chaplain, or even if it were just, you know, the company commander. Just sit down and, 'Hey man, how's everything going?'"

Bowe's lawyer asked Leatherman how Jimenez responded to his suggestion. I'm just going to read you that part of the transcript:

"Answer—First Sergeant said that he didn't want to...he didn't want one of his guys to tell him what was wrong in his company. So it was not my place to tell him if he had problems inside of his company.

Question—I think when we interviewed you, you had even more colorful language of what he said.

Yes, sir.

Could you tell us that?

Sure. He said, 'Fuck off.' He said, 'Shut the fuck up. No one needs to hear what a fucking E5 has to say about a guy in my company.' Then I said, 'Roger, First Sergeant.'"

In his report, General Dahl includes a statement from Jimenez, who says he doesn't recall this conversation with Leatherman, or any conversation like that, and that Bowe, quote, "showed no red flags or emotional problems, as far as I could tell," unquote.

Bowe's friends said, from his messages and letters home, they could tell he wasn't very happy with how things were going in Afghanistan. And in retrospect, you can sort of see his thoughts churning, plans forming.

On June 27th, just three days before Bowe left Mest, he wrote a letter to his parents, venting, in which he sounded pretty disgusted with how the army was operating in Afghanistan. He wrote a more loving letter to a girl he was romantically involved with. He wrote group emails. One was titled "Who is John Galt?" His friend Chad was on that email.

Chad

I saw it, and I was like, Ugh. Ayn Rand. OK, here we go. You know?

Sarah Koenig

John Galt is a character from Atlas Shrugged. The very first line of the book is "Who is John Galt?" And after about 1,000 pages, you finally learn that John Galt is this genius industrialist who sort of single-handedly has shut down the world's economy in order to fix it. He stops the machine.

In the book, he finally reveals himself, delivering, I kid you not, a 60-page speech laying out his philosophy—or, rather, Ayn Rand's philosophy. And, honestly, just as an exercise, you can grab almost any sentence from that John Galt speech and apply it to what Bowe ended up doing. For instance, quote, "A code of values accepted by choice is a code of morality," unquote.

And now, just for kicks, stir in, say, the Bushido code—the part that teaches that it's your duty to try to right a moral wrong, regardless of whether you'll succeed. That's maybe a potent cocktail, if you're Bowe. Here's the text of Bowe's June 27th email.

"It is not the being of value who fails the system, it is the system that has failed the man. For man should not stoop to fit the system, but the system should be made and remade to fit the man who holds value as worth. I will serve no bandit nor liar, for I know John Galt and understand. This life is too short to serve those who compromise value and its ethics. I am done compromising." His friend Nick read that email, along with anyone else.

Sarah Koenig

Were you just, like, uh-oh. Or did you think like, oh, this is just Bowe sorting through—

Nick

This is Bowe being Bowe.

Sarah Koenig

Oh, really?

Nick

Yeah. These are the kinds of things he would say.

Sarah Koenig

Kim Harrison was on those emails too, and had gotten other messages from Bowe, and she was starting to worry. She says she could tell he was frustrated, that he thought his situation was dangerous, that he was trying to hold himself together.

Kim Harrison

Here's this...you know, he's writing these things, these notes, sending emails, he's sending all these cryptic things. He's, um, in a state of mind that was obvious to me, mentally, where he was at. It was stretched. He was on that precipice. You know what I mean?

Sarah Koenig

Mm-hm. Yup.

Kim Harrison

Where a person can make bad choices. Like really bad choices.

Sarah Koenig

Right.

Kim Harrison

I don't think...you know, it's not suicidal or that kind of thing at all. It was just, he's frustrated, he's on edge, and not really completely logical, in his right mind.

Sarah Koenig

But is this what you understood at the time that—

Kim Harrison

Yes.

Sarah Koenig

—or are you saying this in hindsight, now that you've talked to him more.

Kim Harrison

No, no, no, no, no. No, I had—

Sarah Koenig

This was clear to you at the time.

Kim Harrison

It was really clear. Yeah.

Sarah Koenig

A few days later, some army people show up at her door to tell her Bowe is missing. And just a day or two after that, a box arrives at her house from Bowe. He'd sent it from Afghanistan. It's got his computer, his iPod, his Kindle, a journal, and a copy of Atlas Shrugged.

It's been pretty widely reported that, at Bowe's military hearing, his lawyers said this carefully phrased but also somewhat vague thing regarding Bowe's mental health. He said a, quote, "neutral army psychiatry board has now concluded that, back in June 2009, that Sergeant Bergdahl possessed a severe mental disease or defect," unquote.

And this past week, I finally found out what he meant by that. In May of last year, Bowe's defense team asked for what's called a 706 sanity board—a mental health assessment—in connection with the charges against Bowe. An army forensic psychiatrist, a well-regarded doctor named, Christopher Lang, met with Bowe and gave a diagnosis—schizotypal personality disorder—that he said Bowe would have had as of the time of the alleged misconduct. And I'm guessing this too will be part of Bowe's defense at the court-martial proceeding.

Dr. Valdovinos, the SERE psychologist who knows Bowe, said that when he heard this diagnosis, he thought, Yeah, I think they hit the nail on the head.

Michael Valdovinos

Because it very much fits, you know, some of the things that he struggles with. It, um...it sort of permeates a lot of what's going on. You see this a lot play out through his life, you know, from development, through his teenage years, to his young adulthood. It really does tell the story of Bowe, unfortunately, you know?

Sarah Koenig

Again, Bowe gave Valdovinos permission to talk about this with me. He described the basic characteristics.

Michael Valdovinos

Folks who are diagnosed with schizotypal personality disorder, they're generally folks who would rather be loners. You know, they sort of lack close friends. Um, they incorrectly interpret events, including feeling like external events have personal meaning to them; um, they dress in peculiar ways, sort of eccentric; you know, belief in sort of special powers; perceptual alterations, persistent and excessive sort of social anxiety—you know, which Bowe really struggles with.

Sarah Koenig

Bowe's grand ideas about his future, about his capabilities, the romantic adventures he wanted to make happen—Valdovinos says those all fit the profile. He said, for anyone with a psychiatric illness like this, symptoms tend to get worse when you're under stress. One of the major symptoms is paranoia and the potential to misinterpret situations.

And Valdovinos says it's not a stretch to say that's probably what happened when Bowe was deployed to Afghanistan, where it's actually dangerous, it's obviously stressful. Bowe's not super tight with the guys in his unit. He starts to think his battalion commander is against them—might even send them on a suicide mission, which is very paranoid thinking. And that all leads to a decision that isn't, well, entirely sane.

Michael Valdovinos

By that point, I think the paranoia of it all kind of pushed him over the edge, and he said, I'm doing it. When you start thinking about the idea of him being Jason Bourne, and, you know, him doing special operations, it sort of fed into that whole narrative—that, you know, I'm going to be able to do this, I'm going to go and bring the help—and not really thinking through the ramifications of walking off a base into...basically into the Taliban. For most of us, it would be an absolute...sort of an absolute boundary for us, you know, to say, hey, even if I'm frustrated with my command, even if I'm frustrated with this mission, frustrated with the army, there's still something, I think biologically, that's going to keep us from literally walking off a base.

Sarah Koenig

Right. Like just self-preservation at that point would kick in.

Michael Valdovinos

Exactly. And so for him to actually do that, you have to think through, like, wow, how could he have done this? You know? And when you look at the whole total picture, it starts to make sense.

Sarah Koenig

Valdovinos thinks that what happened with Bowe at the coast guard, what happened in Afghanistan—it's all of a piece.

The army knows about this diagnosis. At the September hearing, the army prosecutor, Major Margaret Kurtz, gave a preview of the army's thinking on the subject. She read aloud one of the key points from the psychiatrist, Dr. Lang's, report:

quote, "that in 2009, at the time of the alleged criminal misconduct, the accused was able to appreciate the nature and quality and wrongfulness of his conduct," unquote. In other words, mental illness or no, Bowe should be held responsible for his actions.

The other day, I checked back in with Mark, to see if the diagnosis made him think differently about anything.

Mark Boal

I guess it's an interesting data point. I don't know that it's the North Star of the story.

Sarah Koenig

Mark feels like he already knew walking off was not a rational thing to do. So putting a label on Bowe's way of thinking didn't really change much for him. I told Mark that, for me, the diagnosis made me let go of any lingering doubts I had about the truthfulness of Bowe's account, like all the details that didn't add

up—well, yeah, if you're paranoid and doing some magical thinking, of course the details don't add up. It makes me believe him—that he really was, in his mind, trying to raise an alarm. Mark already believed Bowe, though. So aside from a legal defense, Mark wasn't sure the diagnosis made much of a difference. And he worried, in fact, that once they heard the diagnosis, people—maybe people like me—would disregard everything Bowe was saying about his military experience.

Mark Boal

I do think that, for you, the diagnosis...it makes him more credible to you, but it also means you take him less seriously, I think, as a kid with opinions, you know? As like an American soldier with opinions.

Sarah Koenig

No. I don't think that's quite right. I think his assessments, in a general way...of, like, the...like, I think we can all agree that the war in Afghanistan has not been a success, right? I guess I more think he was right by accident.

Mark Boal

Oh, right. What does that mean, "right by accident"?

Sarah Koenig

Like he sort of happens to be right. [CHUCKLES] But he's not specifically right in the particular instances he's necessarily giving as examples of the overall failure.

Mark Boal

But he's responding to real data points, right? I mean, he's not thinking that stuff just from his log cabin in Idaho.

Sarah Koenig

I guess. But if...I mean, again, I know we've...we've sort of argued about Omnah before, but I feel like his beef with Omnah, remember, isn't like "We never should have gone up there in the first place. We never sh—" You know what I mean? I mean, his beef, really, at the end of the day, his biggest complaint is this feeling of "our commander doesn't care about our welfare."

Mark Boal

Yeah.

Sarah Koenig

And in fact it was to the point where he was maybe going to send us on a suicide mission to get rid of us because we were bad for his reputation.

Mark Boal

Yeah.

Sarah Koenig

Right? That's not...no.

Mark Boal

I mean, there's a lot of different judgments that are stacked on top of each other. And the last one is...is...is just deeply paranoid, and you can reject it on its face. I don't think there's a commander in the U.S. armed forces who would do anything remotely like what Bowe is suggesting, OK? So that—

Sarah Koenig

Right.

Mark Boal

—I just think is just...but the other...but the judgments that precede that—that maybe this commander has other priorities besides purely the welfare of his soldiers—I think that's clearly on the face of it true. Because they did put American lives at risk to retrieve equipment.

And that is part of the calculation of war, and you can talk to people up and down the chain of command, and they'll say, yeah, shit like that happens all the time, where you weigh someone's life against a piece of equipment. And that may be an everyday calculation, but that doesn't make it any less fucked up, especially if you're the kid that is...whose life is being weighed to get the equipment back.

Sarah Koenig

Here's where Mark and I diverge a little. He links Bowe's personal experience more directly to the problems of the war than I do. He wants to be careful to separate what Bowe's saying from who Bowe is. In a case like this, though, that's the rub. And Mark sees that.

Mark Boal

I keep going back to something that somebody said to me a long time ago, which was like, I kind of agree with everything he said, but I still want to punch him in the face. You know?

Sarah Koenig

It's like that line from The Big Lebowski: "You're not wrong, Walter. You're just an asshole." I've heard something akin to that sentiment from a bunch of the soldiers who served with Bowe.

Daryl Hansen

It was nuts. I mean, the leadership was out of control. He was right about a lot of the shit. We all talked about it. We all worried about it.

Sarah Koenig

That's Daryl Hansen.

Sarah Koenig

Does the fact of his...what he describes as his good intentions matter to you?

Daryl Hansen

Yes, it does. But an intention like that is not ever justified to me. It's something so huge and such a big decision and that caused so many consequences with it, I feel like you almost have to be God to make that kind of decision. He made like a godlike decision.

Sarah Koenig

I want to be careful not to suggest all the soldiers we talked to are in lockstep here. Some of them, even when we talked to them last summer, said they'd already forgiven Bowe and moved on. Others said they'd never get over it. In the past week or two, my producer Dana and I checked in with about a half-dozen soldiers to see if anything they'd heard from Bowe so far in the podcast had made them feel differently.

Some said they still thought he was lying about why he left. Others said they believe him now and are trying to forgive what he did, but they just can't quite get there. Here's Ben Evans.

Ben Evans

He may have had the greatest intentions in the world, but yeah, I just don't...I can't...yeah, I just don't... [SIGHS] Yeah. [LAUGHS]

Sarah Koenig

I talked to Jon Thurman for a while recently. Jon's mother is a therapist. And like a lot of veterans, he's also had counseling to help him deal with the aftereffects of deployment. So I thought he'd be a little more touchy-feely on the question of Bowe's mental health. I wanted to know if a diagnosis would help Jon—not to say that what Bowe did was OK, but whether a diagnosis would help Jon forgive Bowe, just personally. I got pretty pushy with Jon about it. He was a really good sport.

Jon Thurman

You know, we all experienced the same thing, and we didn't walk off.

Sarah Koenig

I know. I know. But...you're saying, we all experienced the same thing, and we drove on.

Jon Thurman

Yeah.

Sarah Koenig

And what I'm saying to you is you didn't experience...well, yes, you—

Jon Thurman

We didn't see it from his lens.

Sarah Koenig

You would...no.

Jon Thurman

Yeah.

Sarah Koenig

He was getting scared by it.

Jon Thurman

Yeah.

Sarah Koenig

And you weren't.

Jon Thurman

Right. Um—

Sarah Koenig

Like, you're not perceiving danger in those reprimands, and he is.

Jon Thurman

Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, I don't think there was danger in those reprimands, 'cause I—

Sarah Koenig

I know, dude! I know!

Jon Thurman

[LAUGHS]

Sarah Koenig

That's not the...we're not arguing whether he's correct.

Jon Thurman

Oh, I know. I'm sorry.

Sarah Koenig

We're not arguing whether he's correct.

Jon Thurman

Yeah. Um, I really, really, really try to see it from his side, through his lens. And I understand that he and I have very different brains. Um, perception or not, I mean, I still can never forgive him. I can't. And it's on principle.

He broke that intimate bond that we all share with each other. That's not something you can ever come back from. I don't care where your head was, Bowe, you still fucking did it. You walked off, and you betrayed us.

Sarah Koenig

It's like, you stop there?

Jon Thurman

Yeah. It stops there. And that's just that. That's the infantryman in me taking over.

Sarah Koenig

I'm a dyed-in-the-wool civilian from a family of civilians. My father was in the army in World War II, but he didn't deploy overseas. The only war stories I remember him telling me were about, like, carousing in Denver. (Sorry, Dad.) So it wasn't immediately obvious to me why some of the people Bowe served with were not even just mad—they were hurt, deeply hurt, in some cases.

What I understand now is that that bond, that brotherhood they feel, it's not just a cliché. Well, it is a cliché, but it's also profoundly true. I think about it this way. In my life, who would die for me, really? My mom, maybe. Who would I die for? My kids.

And so imagine you're in a platoon. You become so close, so fast, to all these guys around you. You recognize each other's cough, or their silhouette in the dark. You would die for the other guys in your platoon. Even if you don't like them, you'd do it. And they would die for you. It's not even hypothetical. It happens all the time.

And because of that, personalities aside, these guys become family to one another. If you walk away like Bowe did, you break the promise you all have made to each other. You undermine the whole enterprise. Your family starts to crumble when you need it most.

And that's what the soldiers say happened during the search for Bowe. Bowe's friend Chris Ingalls said it was like the soul of their platoon just dwindled. People shrank into themselves. Even afterwards, Second Platoon felt like they were blamed for Bowe leaving, that they were sort of banished from the larger family of the battalion.

A sergeant everyone told us they just loved, a guy named Larry Hein, was moved out of the platoon and replaced by a commander who was, to put it gently, much stricter. After helping with Afghan elections in August of 2009, the platoon went on to a town called Mata Khan and embedded with Afghan security forces. And they did well enough there that they got commendations and a visit by General McChrystal. But still, overall, a lot of them just felt robbed, like their whole deployment lost its meaning.

When I talked to Daryl Hansen again, a couple weeks ago, he said after hearing the podcast, he'd softened some toward Bowe.

Daryl Hansen

I don't have as much hate as I do towards him.

Sarah Koenig

OK.

Daryl Hansen

Even though the world knows Daryl Hansen would have shot him, which I still would've! I wouldn't shoot him today, but I would have at the time. And I think all...you know, but today, I'd probably shake his hand and be like, "Dude, think about it next time, you know, before what you do. Think about it a little bit more, you know? Was it worth it?

Sarah Koenig

Almost all the soldiers we talked to said they still thought Bowe should go to court-martial. And Mark, though he thinks it's taking too long, also said it makes sense for Bowe to go through the military justice system. After all, Mark says, the United States did put a lot of time, and money, and energy into getting Bowe back. And that's as it should be. But we did take extraordinary measures. Next time, on Serial.

Serial is produced by Julie Snyder, Dana Chivvis, and me, in partnership with Mark Boal, Megan Ellison, Hugo Lindren, Jessica Weisberg, Page One, and Annapurna Pictures. Ira Glass is our editorial adviser. Whitney Dangerfield is our digital editor. Research by Kevin Garnett. Fact checking by Michelle Harris. Copy editing Anaheed Alani. Emily Condon is our line producer. Our music is composed by Nick Thorburn, Fritz Myers, and Mark Phillips.

The show is mixed by Kate Bilinski. Kristen Taylor's our community editor. Other Serial staff: Seth Lind, Elise Bergerson, and Kimberly Henderson. Special thanks this week to Jonathan Menjivar, and Rich Orris from Strange Bird Labs for his great work keeping our website going strong. Check it out. There is lots of stuff on that website right now. The address: serialpodcast.org.

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

Ira Glass

Coming up on the next episode of Serial.

Man 2

I had previously had discussions with Somali warlords, Asian dictators, and Afghan insurgent leaders. So, given that range of contacts, I didn't find anything unusual about these.

Man 3

The Taliban are like simple, straightforward people. Do you want a deal or not?

Man 4

He's done more serious time than anyone could possibly imagine.

Man 5

I mean, the released video, and holy shit, there's Bowe again.

Man 6

The old strategy to win this with money, to win this with soldiers, with military might, was doomed.

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