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'Serial' season 2: Bowe Bergdahl facts

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Podcast phenomenon Serial returned for its second season in a surprise release Thursday morning. Focusing on Bowe Bergdahl, a U.S. soldier who was held in Taliban-operated captivity in Afghanistan for five years from June 2009 to September 2014, the first episode sets the season up to unpack Bergdahl’s peculiar case. Host Sarah Koenig and her team raise questions about the circumstances behind Bergdahl leaving his platoon, his captivity, his forthcoming trial, and who he is as a person.

As revealed early in the first episode, Koenig partnered with Zero Dark Thirty screenwriter Mark Boal to produce the season, and because of the charges against Bergdahl (we’ll get to that soon), he was not allowed to talk to press. But listeners can hear Bergdahl’s commentary in conversations with Boal, which will air throughout season 2. Koenig ends the premiere by teasing that next week’s episode will include first-hand accounts from members of the Taliban as well.

Bergdahl’s case, like season 1 subject Adnan Syed’s, is complicated but has been documented at length in the news, though this is the first time we’ll hear a detailed account of the story from Bergdahl’s point of view. Before you dive into season 2, here’s what you need to know about the case.

The way in which Bergdahl left his base in 2009 is disputed.

Sgt. Bergdahl maintains that he left his platoon in Afghanistan in order to raise awareness about the poor leadership he witnessed. He says he had hoped to ignite a DUSTWUN, duty status – unknown whereabouts, to get an audience with a person in power as a way to shed light on the injustices he witnessed in his unit.

But after the Taliban released Bergdahl, many of his fellow soldiers called him a deserter. In March 2015, he was charged with one count of “desertion with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty” and one count of “misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit or place.”

Bergdahl’s fate is still unknown.

During a preliminary hearing in September, military officials didn’t decide if Bergdahl would face jail time. If convicted, he could face life in prison.

His release was deemed controversial almost immediately.

In exchange for Bergdahl’s release, President Barack Obama freed five members of the Taliban from Guantanamo Bay. After Obama announced the deal, Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, criticized the negotiations and said, “I don’t like the deal. I think it’s a bad deal, and I don’t like the precedent.”

Other officials further lamented his release after more details about the way in which he left came out, and reports surfaced that fellow soldiers were killed while searching for him.

“[He’s] clearly a deserter,” said Republican Senator John McCain, who is also the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, two months ago.

President Obama also came under fire for the negotiations, and Republican adversaries suggested he pulled off the exchange without properly notifying Congress.

New episodes of Serial will be released Thursdays and can be heard on Serial‘s website and podcast services, and on Pandora.

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