Serial's Bowe Bergdahl to face court martial
Soldier whose story is the focus of new Serial podcast could be handed life imprisonment
Sgt Bowe Bergdahl, the subject of season two of the popular US podcast Serial, will face a court martial on charges of desertion and endangering troops.
The trial stems from sergeant Bergdahl's decision to leave his eastern Afghanistan outpost in 2009, prompting a huge manhunt in the wilds of the country. He then endured nearly five years of Taliban captivity, reports the New York Times.
The Army's investigating officer had previously testified that prison would be "inappropriate", but Bergdahl now faces a possible life sentence after a top army commander decided yesterday he should face a military court.
His lawyers had called for him to face only an intermediate tribunal known as a special court-martial. There, the most severe penalty possible would be a year of confinement.
Instead, he will face a full court martial, which could impose a five-year penalty if he is convicted of desertion, or a life sentence on the more serious charge of misbehaviour before the enemy.
Meanwhile, Republican politicians continue to heap condemnation on Bergdahl.
Donald Trump has described him as a "traitor" who should be executed. In response, the sergeant's lawyer said: "We again ask that Donald Trump cease his prejudicial months-long campaign of defamation against our client."
In episode one of the second season of Serial, Bergdahl offered his account of why he left his outpost. He said wanted to prompt an audience with a senior Army commander so he could describe what he saw as serious leadership problems endangering his unit.
Explaining that he wanted to emulate the espionage-movie character Jason Bourne, he said he "was trying to prove to the world" that he was a top soldier.
Serial podcast season two: what is new case about?
Serial, the most popular podcast ever, has returned for its second season with a new case – and demand was so high that the website initially went offline.
With the first episode released this morning, the podcast investigates the case of Bowe Bergdahl, a US soldier and former prisoner of war, who has been charged with "desertion with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty" and "misbehaviour before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit or place".
Sergeant Bergdahl is awaiting a ruling on whether he will be forced to make his case in front of a court-martial trial and had until now refused to talk to the media.
Serial is once again presented by Sarah Koenig, but she is working with journalist and screenwriter Mark Boal, who has been interviewing Bergdahl as part of research for a film he plans to make.
A producer as well as a presenter, Koenig has claimed that season two will attempt to do something different from the original season.
"Our first season was about a murder case few people had heard about. Season two is a story a gazillion people have heard about: the story of Bowe Bergdahl," Koenig wrote on the Serial website. "It's been in the newspapers and on TV; it's been the subject of congressional investigations (in fact, this very day, the House Armed Services Committee is releasing a report on the Bergdahl trade) – and it's an active case in military court.
"Unlike our story in season one, this one extends far out into the world. It reaches into swaths of the military, the peace talks to end the war, attempts to rescue other hostages, our Guantánamo policy."
Anticipation amongst fans and critics is extremely high. "The new batch of episodes promises to deliver fresh details on a murky and controversial case that remains the subject of a military investigation and a political firestorm, with Trump and other Republicans branding the soldier a traitor," says The Guardian.
By agreeing to let Serial use his interviews, Bergdahl will have a chance to make his case to a wide audience, notes the New York Times.
The first season of Serial was a huge success, attracting over five million downloads when it was first released in October 2014, although Koenig's decision to record it in real time and include her own personal bias came in for some criticism.
The subject of the first series, Adnan Syed, has recently had his case re-opened by a Baltimore judge, following the conclusion of the series.