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Documents portray Bowe Bergdahl on the edge, troubled well before he left his Afghanistan post

When he was discovered in his barracks, Bowe Bergdahl was hunched up on the floor, his nose bloodied, his spirits seemingly undone by a panic attack.

Diagnosed as suffering from “adjustment disorder with depression,” Bergdahl later washed out of basic training with the U.S. Coast Guard, two years before he joined the Army and landed in Afghanistan.

He told an investigator he was convinced that if he had been called on to rescue people at sea, he would fail.

“I can't save these people,” Bergdahl said he told a psychiatrist — a fear he said was worsened by his father's message that he “can't succeed in anything.”

In newly released documents, Bergdahl, 29, of Hailey, Idaho, is portrayed as a deeply troubled and idealistic soldier who meditated and idolized Bruce Lee and the French Foreign Legion, but was critical of his mission in Afghanistan, where he hatched a “fantastic plan” to get a general to address his grievances.

“I was seeing things heading in a very dangerous direction. So I had to do something. It had to be me doing it ... from a young man's mind and my imagination, I came up with a fantastic plan,” Army Sgt. Bergdahl told an investigator in an interview months after his release in 2014, calling the plan “a self-sacrifice.”

Bergdahl planned to abandon his remote base in June 2009 and walk 20 miles to see a general at the nearest military command post. He had learned the military radio signal DUSTWUN, broadcast when a soldier goes missing in combat, and figured that was what he needed to do to get the general's attention.

“I knew that if DUSTWUN was called from a soldier disappearing, that call goes not [only] all the way up to Army command, it goes to Air Force, it goes to Marines. It goes all the way back to the states. It goes to every high point and everybody finds out about it.”

Bergdahl's conversations with a screenwriter after his release became the basis for the latest season of the podcast “Serial,” and echo the plan he explains in the interview, at times referring to himself in the third person.

“That guy disappears. No one knows what happened to him. That call goes out. It hits every command. Everybody goes, what has happened?” Bergdahl said of his plan.

While the interview sheds light on Bergdahl's mind-set, it also deepens the mystery surrounding the most serious charge he faces.

Bergdahl has been accused of desertion and “misbehavior before the enemy.” If convicted of the most serious accusation — putting those who searched for him at risk — he faces a potential life sentence.

“I was seeing things heading in a very dangerous direction. So I had to do something. It had to be me doing it ... from a young man's mind and my imagination, I came up with a fantastic plan,” Army Sgt. Bergdahl told an investigator in an interview months after his release in 2014, calling the plan “a self-sacrifice.”

Bergdahl planned to abandon his remote base in June 2009 and walk 20 miles to see a general at the nearest military command post. He had learned the military radio signal DUSTWUN, broadcast when a soldier goes missing in combat, and figured that was what he needed to do to get the general's attention.

“I knew that if DUSTWUN was called from a soldier disappearing, that call goes not [only] all the way up to Army command, it goes to Air Force, it goes to Marines. It goes all the way back to the states. It goes to every high point and everybody finds out about it.”

Bergdahl's conversations with a screenwriter after his release became the basis for the latest season of the podcast “Serial,” and echo the plan he explains in the interview, at times referring to himself in the third person.

“That guy disappears. No one knows what happened to him. That call goes out. It hits every command. Everybody goes, what has happened?” Bergdahl said of his plan.

While the interview sheds light on Bergdahl's mind-set, it also deepens the mystery surrounding the most serious charge he faces.

Bergdahl has been accused of desertion and “misbehavior before the enemy.” If convicted of the most serious accusation — putting those who searched for him at risk — he faces a potential life sentence.

After Bergdahl walked away from his unit, he was captured by the Taliban and held for five years by members of the militant Haqqani network based in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He was freed after President Obama agreed to release five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay.

The newly released documents include Bergdahl's sanity board evaluation, which concludes that he suffered from schizotypal personality disorder — characterized by eccentric beliefs and behavior and problems forming close relationships — but “was able to appreciate the nature and quality and wrongfulness of his conduct.”

Also released was a 371-page transcript of Bergdahl's interview with then-Maj. Gen. Kenneth R. Dahl, who led the Army's investigation and testified at a preliminary hearing that sending Bergdahl to jail would be “inappropriate.”

The interview indicates that the investigative team never proposed the “misbehavior before the enemy” charge, which military legal experts have described as unusual and Bergdahl's lead defense attorney, Eugene Fidell, has suggested was politically driven.

In portions of the interview, Bergdahl comes across as a naive loner who went to Paris in hopes of joining the French Foreign Legion.

“It was an adventurous-sounding idea. I have always wanted to travel and I have always wanted to learn languages,” he said of that plan. “Unfortunately, I went all the way to Paris. I went to the fort and I tried to check in. They did a physical on me and they told me because of my eyes they wouldn't take me, which was honestly, kind of, a little bit of relief because by the time I got over there it was way overwhelming. I was there. I didn't speak any French or anything like that.”

The interview underscores the defense's argument that Army officials were aware of Bergdahl's mental health problems when he received a waiver allowing him to enlist.

Fidell said he decided to post the documents online Wednesday after prosecutors attached portions to a court filing.

Fidell said he also posted them because of the “continued campaign of vilification” of Bergdahl by Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump. Trump has repeatedly called Bergdahl a traitor, at times saying he “should have been executed.”

According to the transcript of Dahl's interview, he gave Bergdahl a form listing the three offenses he was suspected of: being absent without leave, desertion and fraudulent enlistment. Dahl did not suggest any additional charges, according to the transcript.

The general's tone in the transcript is conversational, as it was during Bergdahl's initial military hearing. As at the hearing, he praised Bergdahl's service and character, telling him that before his “fantastic plan” to leave the post, he was “one of the best soldiers, arguably the best soldier in [his] platoon.”

“I think all of that deserves to be considered,” Dahl said.

Bergdahl remains on administrative duty at Joint Base San Antonio-Ft. Sam Houston and is expected to face court-martial at Ft. Bragg, N.C., in August.

Follow @mollyhf on Twitter.

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

5:30 p.m.: Updated with changes throughout.

This story was originally published at 8:33 p.m. Wednesday.

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