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Accused deserter Bowe Bergdahl gives ‘gripping’ details of captivity on ‘Serial’ podcast

Sgt. Robert "Bowe" Bergdahl, the soldier held prisoner for years by the Taliban after leaving his post in Afghanistan, gives his account in the popular podcast “Serial” on NPR.

Sgt. Robert “Bowe” Bergdahl, the soldier held prisoner for years by the Taliban after leaving his post in Afghanistan, gives his account in the popular podcast “Serial” on NPR.

(U.S. Army)

For the first time Thursday, the world heard Sgt. Robert “Bowe” Bergdahl describe his 2009 capture in Afghanistan and the nearly five years of captivity that followed.

“I can’t scream, I can’t risk that, so it’s like you’re standing there screaming in your mind. In this room, in this blackened dirt room, it’s tiny,” Bergdahl said in the first episode in National Public Radio’s “Serial” podcast, which will focus on his case.

“And just on the side of that flimsy wooden door that you could probably easily rip off the hinges is the entire world out there. It is everything that you’re missing, it is everybody, everyone is out there. You know, that breath that you’re trying to breathe, that release that you’re trying to get — everything is beyond that door. And, I mean” — Bergdahl paused — “I hate doors now.”

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Bergdahl, 29, of Hailey, Idaho, has been charged with desertion and “misbehavior before the enemy” after disappearing from his post in eastern Afghanistan in June 2009. If his case goes to court-martial and he is convicted of the more serious misbehavior charge, he faces a potential life sentence.

Bergdahl allegedly walked away from his unit after expressing misgivings about the military’s role in Afghanistan. He was then captured by the Taliban and held by members of the militant Haqqani network based in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Last year, he was freed after President Obama agreed to release five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay in a controversial prisoner exchange.

An Army officer has recommended that Bergdahl’s case be referred to a special court-martial, a misdemeanor-level forum, but the final decision rests with a general overseeing the case. It’s not clear when the general will announce his decision, and Army officials declined to comment on the case Thursday.

Bergdahl did not testify at a September preliminary hearing at Joint Base San Antonio-Ft. Sam Houston, where he continues to serve. He has refused interviews since his release, but his attorney, Eugene Fidell, said he made an exception for the “Serial” podcast, based on phone conversations he had with filmmaker Mark Boal, writer and producer of “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty.” Fidell called it a “gripping … high-quality production.”

“I think people will learn a lot from it,” Fidell said in an interview Thursday. “Our view is that the more information everyone has, the better.”

At one point in the podcast, Bergdahl explained to Boal the meaning of the term DUSTWUN: “The radio signal that’s put out over the radio when a soldier goes missing in a combat field.”

That’s why Bergdahl said he left his remote outpost, to cause a stir and draw attention to leadership failures in his unit that he feared were putting fellow soldiers’ lives at risk.

molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

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