Newly released documents shed light on the mental state of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and his perplexing decision to leave his post in Afghanistan in 2009.
The documents, released to The New York Times on Wednesday, reveal that Sergeant Bergdahl told a general investigating the case that he hoped to cause an alarm by leaving his post, then walk to a large base in Afghanistan so he could talk with a top commander.
“So, the idea was to – it was – literally, it was a sacrificial – it was a self-sacrifice thing," Bergdahl told Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dahl, who headed the army’s 22-member investigation team in August 2014.
Attorneys for Bergdahl, who faces charges including desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, said they released the documents to help counteract negative publicity surrounding the case, which has become a significant political controversy.
"The more Americans know about this case, the better," Eugene Fidell, Bergdahl’s lead attorney, who teaches military law at Yale Law School, told the Associated Press in an email.
In the interview with General Dahl, Bergdahl expressed misgivings about how he and other soldiers were sent to help retrieve a disabled armored vehicle before encountering enemy fire and explosives that turned a six-hour mission into one lasting several days.
None of the men were killed, but when they returned the base, Bergdahl said, an officer complained that they were unshaven. He told General Dahl that if he didn’t speak up, a future bad order could get someone in his platoon killed.
Another newly released document from July 2015 shows that an Army Sanity Board concluded that Bergdahl suffered from schizotypal personality disorder when he left the post.
Bergdahl had previously been discharged from the Coast Guard after a few weeks of basic training after suffering a panic attack. The Coast Guard found he had an “adjustment disorder with depression,” The Times reports.
He told General Dahl that he had suffered a panic attack because he believed that, when the time came, he would fail in his duty to rescue people drowning in the ocean. “I can’t save these people,” Berghdahl said he had told a psychiatrist in the hospital after his panic attack, according to the interview transcript.
The information could be a significant factor in his defense, as his lawyers have suggested that psychological problems that were apparent in his record when he left the Coast Guard should have prevented him from joining the Army.
The Army, desperate for recruits at the time, allowed him to enlist two years after his Coast Guard discharge with a waiver, the Times reports.
Mr. Fidell said he made the decision to release the documents — including a full transcript of Bergdahl’s interview with General Dahl — after some of the information was included in the court record by prosecutors.
Bergdahl’s military trial is set to begin this summer, but has been delayed by disagreements over access to classified materials.
After leaving his post, Bergdahl was captured and tortured by members of the Taliban for five years before being swapped in May 2014 for five Guantanamo Bay detainees in a deal approved by President Obama.
When it became apparent that he had walked away from his post, the deal and Bergdahl himself were harshly criticized by Republican lawmakers and some of his fellow soldiers, turning the case into a significant political controversy. Presidential candidate Donald Trump has accused Bergdahl of being a traitor, despite testimony that he never sought to defect.
In a preliminary hearing this fall, General Dahl revealed some of Berghdal’s motivations and later recommended that a sentence that included jail time was “inappropriate.” His case has also been chronicled through interviews he did with screenwriter Mark Boal on the second season of the podcast “Serial.”