During his first interview with the general leading an investigation into his capture by the Taliban, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl on Wednesday described details of his disappearance from his tiny combat outpost in eastern Afghanistan five years ago.
It was the first time Bergdahl, of the Army, had formally described those events since he was released by the Taliban to special operations troops in May and flown to Texas after five years of captivity.
As soon as the session began, the investigating officer, Maj. Gen. Kenneth R. Dahl, warned Bergdahl that he did not have to say anything that might incriminate himself. But the sergeant did not exercise his right to remain silent, one of his lawyers, Eugene R. Fidell, said in a brief telephone interview from Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where Bergdahl is based.
“He has responded to every question asked of him, and he has been afforded an opportunity to tell his story,” said Fidell, who attended the interview along with a military lawyer for the sergeant, Capt. Alfredo Foster. It was mostly “just letting the facts unfold in his own voice.”
“It has been a combination of a conversation and a narrative, and it has been entirely nonconfrontational,” Fidell added. He said that Dahl was “a skilled interviewer, and he immediately put everyone in the room at ease.”
The Army appointed Dahl to carry out what is known as an AR 15-6 investigation and compile a report on the disappearance of Bergdahl, 28. The report will be sent up the chain of command, and it could lead to administrative or nonjudicial punishments, or court-martial. Superior officers could also conclude that no punishments are warranted.
The circumstances of Bergdahl’s disappearance on June 30, 2009 — when he was assigned to the 2nd Platoon, Blackfoot Company, of the 1st Battalion, 501st Regiment — turned into a political controversy after the Taliban released him in late May, following President Barack Obama’s agreement to release five Taliban detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
Some members of Bergdahl’s unit, as well as some lawmakers, criticized the prisoner exchange, or said the sergeant should face punishment. Those critics say he voluntarily walked off base and that he put men assigned to search for him — through a rugged, Taliban-infested region — in harm’s way.
Fidell has refused to describe Bergdahl’s own account of his disappearance, and on Wednesday he declined to say what his client told Dahl.
An earlier AR 15-6 investigation into Bergdahl’s disappearance, conducted by another Army officer, painted a critical portrait of poor discipline within his unit, and blamed the unit and chain of command for inadequately securing the area around the outpost, two U.S. officials briefed on the classified report said in June.
The revelation of details of that report two months ago enraged some critics of Bergdahl, who suggested details were leaked to discredit soldiers who had publicly criticized him.
Fidell, who teaches military justice at Yale Law School, declined to comment on the earlier military investigation. He also released pictures he took Tuesday in which the sergeant appeared to be fit and trim, with a short haircut.
Fidell said that Bergdahl “had suffered some physical shortcomings during the course of his military service,” which Fidell declined to describe, but that he was “fundamentally healthy.”