As the controversy over the prisoner swap grows, new information has emerged about Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s time in Afghanistan. On Thursday, administration officials said Bergdahl’s life could have been in danger if details of the prisoner swap had been leaked. While some in the media have speculated that Bergdahl became sympathetic to his captors, new reports reveal Bergdahl actually escaped from his captors on at least two occasions, once in the fall of 2011 and again sometime in 2012. In another development, the New York Times reveals a classified military report concluded Bergdahl most likely walked away from his Army outpost in June 2009 on his own free will, but it stops short of concluding that there is solid evidence that he intended to permanently desert. The report also revealed that Bergdahl had wandered away from assigned areas while in the Army at least twice before prior to the day he was captured, including once in Afghanistan. We speak to Matthew Farwell, a journalist and veteran of the Afghan war who has been following the Bergdahl story for years. He helped the late Michael Hastings write his 2012 Rolling Stone article, “America’s Last Prisoner of War.” Farwell came to know Bergdahl’s parents after they attended the funeral of his brother who served and died in Afghanistan.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: President Barack Obama said Thursday he would make “no apologies” for agreeing to a prisoner swap to free Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five Guantánamo detainees.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I’m never surprised by controversies that are whipped up in Washington. Right? That is par for the course. But I will repeat what I said two days ago. We have a basic principle. We do not leave anybody wearing the American uniform behind. We had a prisoner of war whose health had deteriorated, and we were deeply concerned about it. And we saw an opportunity and we seized it. And I make no apologies for that.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The rescue of Bergdahl has touched off a political firestorm. On Thursday, administration officials said Bergdahl’s life could have been in danger if details of the prisoner swap had been leaked. Bergdahl had been held captive by the Haqqani network for five years. While some in the media have speculated that Bergdahl became sympathetic to his captors, new reports reveal Bergdahl actually escaped from his captors on at least two occasions. Once in the fall of 2011 and again sometime in 2012. According to The Daily Beast, in his first escape, Afghan sources said he avoided capture for three days and two nights before searchers finally found him. Exhausted and hiding in a shallow trench, he had dug with his own hands and covered with leaves.
AMY GOODMAN: In another development The New York Times reveals a classified military report concluded Bowe Bergdahl most likely walked away from his army outpost in June 2009 of his own free will, but it stopped short of concluding their is solid evidence he intended to permanently desert. The report also revealed Bergdahl had wandered away from assigned areas while in the Army at least twice before prior to the day he was captured, including once in Afghanistan. Well, we’re joined right now by Matthew Farwell, he’s a journalist and veteran of the Afghan War who has been following the Bergdahl story for years. He helped the late reporter Michael Hastings write his 2012 Rolling Stone piece headlined, “America’s Last Prisoner of War.” Matthew Farwell came to know Bergdahl’s parents after they attended the funeral of his brother, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and died in an accident in Germany. Matthew Farwell, thank you so much for joining us.
MATTHEW FARWELL: Thank you for having me.
AMY GOODMAN: So why don’t you talk about how you met Bowe Bergdahl’s parents, Bob and Jani.
MATTHEW FARWELL: Well, I didn’t really need them. I was up giving the eulogy for my brother and looked back in the back of the church and saw two people that I thought I recognized, and it was Bob and Jani Bergdahl.
AMY GOODMAN: Because you are from Idaho.
MATTHEW FARWELL: My parents are from Idaho, and I had been following the news so closely.
AMY GOODMAN: What year was this?
MATTHEW FARWELL: This was 2010, ma’am. February 3.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, how did you then come to know them?
MATTHEW FARWELL: After that I kept in touch with them a little bit because I thought that was a classy gesture. And then Michael and I did the story and I have stayed in touch.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In terms of the story with Michael, how did you decide to focus on the Bergdahl story and begin gathering the information, which is really the definitive work on the Bergdahl saga?
MATTHEW FARWELL: Well, you know, the FBI actually investigated how that came to be. So, I’ve got to keep some trade secrets on it.
AMY GOODMAN: No, explain for a moment. This is a side story, but Michael died in a fiery car crash and he had said at the time that he was being investigated by the FBI.
MATTHEW FARWELL: Yes, and in then a Freedom of Information Act request was done by a great journalist named Jason Schapiro. And it came back and he sent it up to me and I saw all of the redacted portions and said, holy cow, they’re talking about me right here. And so, I put through a privacy act request, got it back and sure enough, they were looking into our “controversial” reporting on the story, which I think is a little unusual that the FBI is reading Rolling Stone on the job. But I give them credit.
AMY GOODMAN: So tell us about Bowe Bergdahl and what you learned.
MATTHEW FARWELL: Well, you know, Bowe is an interesting guy. And I’m very conflicted myself about how I feel about him and his case, but he was a young man, homeschooled, grew up in Sun Valley, Idaho. From all accounts, very intelligent. He did a lot of traveling prior to joining the Army.
AMY GOODMAN: His parents came from California?
MATTHEW FARWELL: Yes, ma’am. They came from California to Sun Valley I think the year before his older sister was born. They stayed there ever since. His dad was the Sun Valley UPS man for 30 years.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: As your story in Rolling Stone details, early on he grew dissatisfied with being at home, being homeschooled and decided he wanted to pursue a life of adventure. Could you talk about that?
MATTHEW FARWELL: Right. I mean, it seems he went up and worked as a commercial fisherman in Alaska, he traveled around the states on motorcycle, you know, just all the sorts of things that young men who are seeking something seem to do.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the French Foreign Legion too?
MATTHEW FARWELL: And his father said he tried to join the French Foreign Legion and was disqualified for eyesight.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what that is, the French Foreign Legion.
MATTHEW FARWELL: The French Foreign Legion is France’s force of essentially foreign mercenaries who can come from any walk of life. A lot of them are hardened criminals or refugees currently from Eastern Europe. And once you join, you acquire a nom de guerre, you know, a fake name that you get for them.
AMY GOODMAN: Bowe was known around town in Hailey, Idaho. He worked at Zaney’s Coffee House. He took up ballet and many had seen his performances.
MATTHEW FARWELL: Yes, ma’am.
AMY GOODMAN: So, how does he end up in U.S. military? How does he end up in Afghanistan?
MATTHEW FARWELL: Well, he did not just and up in U.S. military, he ended up in the U.S. Army parachute infantry. So, it’s — the military, about 90%, are support personnel, about 10% are the actual war fighters and trigger pullers. And so he was in that 10%. And it seems he just came back one day and said, hey, dad, I’m thinking about joining the Army. And as we said in the story, are you thinking about joining the Army or did you already sign up? Bowe admitted, well, yeah, I already signed up. So, it’s a path a lot of young men take. I took it. Dropped out of the University of Virginia to join the infantry. And aside from that, I don’t know.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Your article paints a not very flattering portrait of the unit that he was assigned to. One of the problems he had with the lack of discipline and lack of actual fighting capacity of the unit that he was in, in an outpost, really, in Afghanistan. Could you describe some of those problems?
MATTHEW FARWELL: Well, it seems from the video that Sean Smith of The Guardian shot after embedding with them for about a month, it seemed to me as a former infantryman who served in that exact area and knows that ground very, very well, that the unit wasn’t operating with the same level of professionalism that’s required to stay on your game there and keep your men alive and your men apparently from walking off.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to Sean Smith’s — a clip of Sean Smith’s first film. He’s The”Guardian reporter and he was embedded with Bowe’s unit. And then because he had come to know this unit, the Bergdahl’s said he could come to Idaho and he did a 12 minute piece about Bob Bergdahl. So, let me go to that piece right now, just a clip of — Sean Smith, he is talking to, not to Bowe, but it’s other soldiers who are talking here.
SOLDIER ONE: These people just want to be left alone.
SOLDIER TWO: Yeah, they got dicked with — they got dicked with from the Russians for 17 years and then now we’re here.
SOLDIER ONE: Same thing in Iraq when I was there. These people just want to be left alone. Have their crops, weddings, stuff like that, that’s it man.
SOLDIER TWO: I’m glad they leave them alone.
SEAN SMITH: A few weeks later, Bowe Bergdahl, pictured in this photo, disappeared. The circumstances are unclear.
AMY GOODMAN: That, a report from The Guardian from Sean Smith, embedded with Bowe Bergdahl’s unit. Now, according to your piece, the piece that you wrote with Michael Hastings in Rolling Stone, Matthew, Bowe sent a final e-mail to his parents on June 27, three days before he was captured in 2009. He wrote, “The future is too good to waste on lies… And life is way to short to care for the damnation of others as well as to spend it helping fools with their ideas that are wrong. I have seen their ideas and I’m ashamed to even be American. The horror of the self-righteous arrogance that they thrive in. Is is all revolting. I am sorry for everything here… These people need help, yet what they get is the conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid, that they have no idea how to live. The horror that is America is disgusting.” He also saw a U.S. military vehicle roll over an Afghan baby. Matthew Farwell?
MATTHEW FARWELL: Well, I think that pretty much speaks for itself. The guy was clearly not happy where he was, not happy with the people he was serving with. And, you know, that area is a bad, bad area he walked off from. And it’s just difficult for me to comprehend what must have been going through his mind when he made that decision, because I have been through there and I was scared out of my mind walking through that town and some of the guys that we’re with, you know, intelligence units, always told us, hey, watch yourself when you are in Yaya Kheyl.
AMY GOODMAN: And let’s be clear, he had packed up his stuff, sent it to his parents, and left his gun, his body armor, everything at the outpost and then he went and left.
MATTHEW FARWELL: Right, from what we have heard, he only took a couple bottles of water, his books, and — I’m trying to think what else — a knife and his camera. And some of the reports that came through the WikiLeaks disclosures indicate that that is what the Afghan villagers saw when they saw him walking by himself. The Afghan villagers thought that was crazy.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: You were in the same area of Afghanistan. What is your sense of the level of the kind of disillusionment that Bowe Bergdahl expressed here? How prevalent was that or is it an isolated situation or was there a sharp degree of disconnect between what the soldiers came there thinking they were going to do versus what they ended up doing?
MATTHEW FARWELL: Well, like I’ve said, the area was a very difficult area to operate in. You think, it’s crushing poverty, zero percent female literacy — literally, no toilets in the entire Providence except for American toilets. And so, a lot of the men in my platoon — I was there two years prior to Bowe being there — and a lot of the men in my platoon, and myself included, came back with tremendous cases of PTSD from what we were doing there because it was simply a difficult lace to fight a war in. And I think everyone from Alexander the Great up to the Soviets to us have learned that fact the hard way.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to take a break and then come back to this discussion. We are talking with Matthew Farwell. He is a writer for Rolling Stone magazine, an Afghan War veteran. He helped the late Michael Hastings write the 2012 article on Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl that’s become the definitive piece on him called, “America’s Last Prisoner of War.” Stay with us.
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