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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Soldier Calls ‘PR Campaign’ Against Bergdahl ‘Disgusting’

A sign announcing the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl sits outside Zaney's coffee shop where Bergdahl worked as a teenager on June 2, 2014 in Hailey, Idaho. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

A sign announcing the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl sits outside Zaney’s coffee shop where Bergdahl worked as a teenager on June 2, 2014 in Hailey, Idaho. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

A new video out from the Taliban shows his release to American special forces on Saturday, as the debate continues over whether Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is a deserter, defector or hero.

Here & Now’s Robin Young speaks with Matthew Farwell, a former infantry soldier in Afghanistan who helped write a 2012 Rolling Stone profile of Bowe Bergdahl.

Interview Highlights: Matthew Farwell

On the criticism Bergdahl has received from members of his unit

“The unit itself appeared to have discipline and morale problems. You can review footage from Sean Smith of the Guardian, who embedded with them for a month. And when reviewing that footage, as a former infantryman, I looked at the way those soldiers were conducting operations, and I was stunned with the lack of professionalism.”

“So you’ve got soldiers who have come back from a pretty hellish deployment, had to shut up about it for five years, and now, the bubble’s burst and they can finally talk about it, and they’re directing a lot of the anger that is natural for any soldier to feel after a war directly at Bergdahl, which I think is unfair.”

On allegations that soldiers died looking for Bergdahl

“Applying any direct causal relationship — you know, Bowe Bergdahl and those soldiers dying — and I have the greatest sympathy for those families and those soldiers. I have a brother who was killed serving his country. I know how horrible that feels. But, you know, I don’t think it’s fair to lay that directly at Bergdahl’s feet, and the fact is, it’s a bad area. Any time that you flood that zone with soldiers, there are going to be fatalities. So I think it’s kind of a weak link, and it’s an emotional argument that resonates with people, but isn’t necessarily factual.”

On the “PR campaign” surrounding Bergdahl’s release

“I think it’s fairly interesting and somewhat disgusting how politicized this has been.”

“The political game being, you know, playing typical Washington games of using U.S. soldiers as pawns and props to make a political argument. Also, Bob and Jani Bergdahl, the parents of Bowe, are lovely people, they are good Americans, and they have been through hell in the past five years, and I think the amount of disrespect they’ve been getting from all sides has been absolutely disgusting.

Video: Guardian footage from Afghanistan that includes Bergdahl

Guests

Transcript

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

I'm Jeremy Hobson. It's HERE AND NOW. And we'll start this hour with Bowe Bergdahl. In a few minutes, we'll go to his hometown of Hailey, Idaho.

YOUNG: But first to calls for him to be tried as a traitor and reports that a PR firm run by a former Republican strategist is behind those calls. Matthew Farwell is a former soldier who helped write the 2012 Rolling Stone profile of Bergdahl. Matt, what do you make of this criticism from his unit?

MATTHEW FARWELL: Well, so I didn't serve with Bowe Bergdahl, but I served in the exact same area two years prior. So I've got a personal, visceral connection with that land and with that area and how difficult it is to operate as an infantryman there. And so I have sympathy for the soldiers. I have great empathy for them. You know, that sounded like they went through hell in the months after he left trying to find him.

But on the other hand, they had to sign a blanket nondisclosure agreement threatened with, you know, having a career ended, possibly going to prison. We weren't able to actually review the nondisclosure agreement. But we had it described to us by several of the soldiers we talked to on background.

YOUNG: Meaning what? In other words, they weren't allowed to talk about what happened? Or...

FARWELL: Nothing. They basically had to - it was a gag order on basically their entire deployment.

YOUNG: And not Bowe Bergdahl, but where they were and what it was like.

FARWELL: Well - and it was all related to the Bowe Bergdahl thing in an attempt to, I guess, cover it up or suppress it or not veer from the official narrative.

YOUNG: Well, it's interesting. So you're saying that it was a hellish place before Bowe Bergdahl walked out of it. And...

FARWELL: Oh, absolutely. It was a hellish place when I was there.

YOUNG: Yeah, and we're hearing that from members of Bergdahl's unit. One was on our sister show, On Point, this morning - Nathan Bethea. He says this was not like a base. People shouldn't picture a base. The unit, he said, was undermanned and under a great deal of stress. Here's a little more of what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

NATHAN BETHEA: It was a tower made of concrete reinforced with sandbags on a hill. Aside from that, they had a watershed and they parked their vehicles and had strong concertina wire around them with some cement barriers.

It was - they slept in ponchos. It was as austere as anything I've ever seen in the 13 months I spent deployed or anywhere else I've been in the military.

YOUNG: So, Matthew Farwell, what are you saying because I've heard you speak about this? Are you saying that this might have been a unit that, as we've heard in the past in these outposts, maybe turned on each other? Or that maybe you also have sympathy for Bergdahl that he walked away from it? I mean, what are you saying?

FARWELL: No, I'm saying that the unit itself appeared to have discipline and morale problems. You can review footage from Sean Smith of the Guardian who imbedded with them for a month. And when reviewing the footage as a former infantryman, I looked at the way those soldiers were conducting operations, and I was stunned with the lack of professionalism.

YOUNG: Take me from that to what is happening today.

FARWELL: Well, I mean, I think - so you've got soldiers that have come back from a pretty hellish deployment, had to shut up about it for five years. And now the bubble's burst, and they can finally talk about it. And they're directing a lot of the anger that is natural for any soldier to feel after a war directly Bergdahl, which I think is unfair.

YOUNG: Well, others are also questioning some of the claims including that six to eight people died searching for him. The New York Times has done an in-depth look. They say that the claims are murky at best.

Two, for instance, two of the soldiers that were said to have died in the search for Bowe Bergdahl actually died on the post. Do you have any thoughts on that - on the claims of people dying looking for him?

FARWELL: Look, applying any direct causal relationship between, you know, Bowe Bergdahl and those soldiers dying - and I have the greatest sympathy for the families and for those soldiers. I have a brother who was killed serving this country.

YOUNG: Oh, I'm so sorry.

FARWELL: I know how horrible that feels. But, you know, I don't think it's fair to lay that directly at Bergdahl's feet. And the fact is, it's a bad area. Any time that you flood that zone with so many U.S. soldiers, there are going to be fatalities. So I think it's kind of a weak link and it's an emotional argument that resonates with people but isn't necessarily factual.

YOUNG: Well, and I don't want to let that slide by. Coming from you who, as you just said, lost a brother.

FARWELL: Right.

YOUNG: Again, I'm so sorry to hear that. But even you feel that that's maybe too much being loaded on one soldier. Well, just - we know you also want to address what we're hearing today about how many of these troops - again, they have their own sincere beliefs and you're also sounding like you're forgiving some of them because you know what they went through - a bubble bursting, as you said.

FARWELL: Absolutely.

YOUNG: But...

FARWELL: Well, and I've interviewed many of them, and I've talked to many of them. A lot of them are my friends, you know.

YOUNG: Yeah. Well, but you said you want to address how some of them were coming to the media. Many of them were offered to the media through this PR campaign, which has been acknowledged. Your thoughts about that?

FARWELL: Right. I think it's fairly interesting and somewhat disgusting how politicized this has been. If I can find it here, I will get an email that I had from one of my sources within the platoon. On June 1, he wrote me a note that said, absolutely f-ing nuts in the last few hours. This is going to be huge in a few days.

And I believe that that was right around the same time that this PR flack - you know, D.C. bottom feeder was, you know, trying to gather these guys up and use them as a pawn in a political game, which I think is entirely disgusting.

YOUNG: And the political game being?

FARWELL: The political game being - you know, playing typical Washington games of using U.S. soldiers as pawns and props to make a political argument. Also, Bob and Jani Bergdahl, the parents of Bowe, are lovely people.

They are good Americans, and they've been through hell in the past five years. And I think the amount of disrespect they've been getting from all sides has been absolutely disgusting.

YOUNG: Matthew, thanks for talking to us. Thank you.

FARWELL: Thank you, ma'am.

YOUNG: Former soldier and journalist, Matthew Farwell. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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  • Frog

    I wish you would have asked the guest if he thought Bergdahl served with “honor and distinction”? Do those words mean anything? Because those were the talking points on Sunday. Then Bergdahl’s fellow soldiers said, as reported by the NY Times: “Mr. Cornelison and Mr. Full both said they wanted to see Sergeant Bergdahl court-martialed as a deserter. “I’m not going to speak on the political, but I think that now that he’s back, he needs to be held accountable,” Mr. Full said…. “For putting myself and 29 other people in my platoon in hell for 90 days.”

    Now I find out from the guest that those same soldiers had “morale and discipline” problems, performed stunningly “unprofessional”-ly at times while in Afghanistan. I guess that effects how believable they are. Of course, the only proof is a 8 minute UK internet video.

    No prisoners are being taken with this controversy. Everyone is throwing everyone under the bus. So what am I supposed to believe? Which hero should I trust?

    • muddaholic

      Well said frog.
      Robin Young’s attempt to lead this discussion away from the military facts is really low grade journalism.
      No matter what the moral issue, no matter what the state of mind of the soldier, no soldier can ever decide to leave his post on a forward operating base. EVER ! To do so is desertion.
      Both of these shills who call themselves ” journalist ” should identify themselves as the PR operatives for the DNC. Pathetic …..

    • Bill98

      I suggest focusing on the fact that an American soldier is coming home. All else is spin, and not worthy of your attention.

      • followthetruth

        Really? When our govt. for the FIRST TIME is negotiating with a terrorist organization, not with a govt.? You all can spin it all you want, but you cannot hide truth, no matter how hard you try.

        • Ramanusia

          Iran contra ring a bell?

          • B

            Huh?

          • Ramanusia

            I guess you missed the other times we’ve negotiated with terrorists and armed them.

        • chattycathy123

          FOR THE FIRST TIME? Put your crack pipe down, please. Iran Contra. Let me say it again. IRAN CONTRA. IRAN CONTRA. Stop your pubic lying. IRAN CONTRA. But, once again, that was a republican who did it, even the KING Republican. Of course what he traded could come back and bit the US in the butt. It was only millions of missiles and automatic weapons. Nope, no fear there!

  • Blue_To_Shoe

    Welcome to the new America of FoxNews (notNews) & Talk radio : American vs American.
    This is what happens when Americans – through pop-’Conservative’ media – are constantly told that their REAL ENEMY is their fellow American whom is ‘different’.
    American vs American:

    A “do-nothing” Congress attacking the President for doing something without them.

    The mainstream media – (such as NBC NEWS’ Andrea Mitchell) – attacking the White House for basically doing the same thing they did – perhaps, summary premature celebration.
    Bergdahl’s fellow servicemen attacking him for what they apparently feel is ‘desertion’ that may have cost the lives of others.

    Bergdahl supporters now attacking the perceived motives of Bergdahl’s accusers.
    The residents of Bergdahl’s hometown attacking the self-important ‘talking heads’, cynics, and demagogues, for premature judgments without having all of the facts in hand – especially Bergdahl’s ‘side’ of the story.
    NEVER stopped FoxNews (not News) before.

    • muddaholic

      And MSNBC

      And The NY Times

      And The Washington Post

      And right here with N.uanced P.olitical R.etoric network….

      Naw, the blubbering left has no such shills as part of their PR system….

      • Ack Ack Ack

        Disingenuous AND whiney! Good job, muddaholic.

  • it_disqus

    Did this release make Americans safer?

    • Bill98

      No, and it didn’t cure cancer, either. What it did do is bring an American soldier home, which was its intent.

      • it_disqus

        That warms my heart that you think so much of our soldiers. Your comment is nothing more than an emotional diversion from the question.

    • chattycathy123

      Oh, so the release of a soldier doesn’t mean anything unless it makes the united states safer? You mean like it would get rid of the guns on the streets? How so? If the prisoners were so terrible, why didn’t the US charge them in 13 years? Are you saying that it would take at least 50 years to find a charge that would stick so they should have stayed in GITMO being tortured, starved, sexually assaulted for another 40 some years? Sure thing, makes a lot of sense. Oh, wait, in a few months the pubics were going to release them so they can look good. Just because they were from sand land, does not mean they were terrorists against the US.

      • it_disqus

        Ha…”charge them”…you really don’t have a clue. You say words that have no meaning and regurgitate talking points.

  • Jodi Smith

    “Honor and distinction”, “Are we safer?”, where’s the hero here? This is part of the problem. We’re looking for a slogan or icon to grab a hold of. We want things to be black and white, good and bad. The real world is much more murky and complicated.
    Is it possible that Bergdahl’s movtivations for wandering away more complicated than traitor or hero?
    In the midst of this fog in come the spinmeisters, whipping up a frenzy of emotions, pointing fingers. People’s reason go out the window when they feel they have a tribe to defend. Innocent people get crushed in the melee. The parents here are like most parents everywhere: we want our children whole and secure. Why should they be vilified for loving their son? It is horrible see this outrage.

  • Frog
  • Bob Mirarck

    Just heard your interview with Carol Costello on CNN. As a Viet Nam era veteran I applaud your comment “I served and I can say whatever the hell I want”. Those have been my watchwords since ’67. You are one hundred percent on with the “chicken hawks” comment as well!! O’reilly is an “entertainer” NOT a “journalist”.

  • Metatron von Bardeleben

    Beware

    of Political Spin trashing a soldier that has been held prisoner before

    anyone has even spoken to him; and, beware of these other soldiers

    coming out in his unit against him – There are all kinds of reasons

    that this might be done – It might be true, but then why was he promoted

    while in captivity – wouldn’t a warrant for arrest have been more

    appropriate, if it where true – then why not wait

    to place him in cuffs and arrest him upon being turned over, —- it

    is more likely that he was being harassed by other soldiers or

    supervisors because he held different opinions, Even more likely – he

    knows of some war crime by the unit and they must now trash him to

    cover it up – they had hoped that he would never have been rescued and

    continued to promote him in absentia to assist in this cover up as he

    would never be available for comment or so they thought, or —- he may

    have had a nervous breakdown; or he may have been forced to come with

    the captors to be used in the future just for the very reason that he

    has been used for – as an exchange for some of the Taliban Leadership.

    ??????????????????????????/

    The Military would never promote someone that it suspected of treason.

    If you read the comments too by some of those soldiers denouncing
    Bergdahl – in the same breath one will say We do not really know what
    happened and then turn around and describe in detail how he is a traitor
    and walked away from his post. WTF? Smells like a vituperative
    campaign orchestrated by some others who might have something to hide
    and who had hoped that this would just go away as they thought he would
    never return alive.
    Beware

    of Political Spin trashing a soldier that has been held prisoner before

    anyone has even spoken to him; and, beware of these other soldiers

    coming out in his unit against him – There are all kinds of reasons

    that this might be done – It might be true, but then why was he promoted

    while in captivity – wouldn’t a warrant for arrest have been more

    appropriate, if it where true – then why not wait

    to place him in cuffs and arrest him upon being turned over, —- it

    is more likely that he was being harassed by other soldiers or

    supervisors because he held different opinions, Even more likely – he

    knows of some war crime by the unit and they must now trash him to

    cover it up – they had hoped that he would never have been rescued and

    continued to promote him in absentia to assist in this cover up as he

    would never be available for comment or so they thought, or —- he may

    have had a nervous breakdown; or he may have been forced to come with

    the captors to be used in the future just for the very reason that he

    has been used for – as an exchange for some of the Taliban Leadership.

    ??????????????????????????/

    The Military would never promote someone that it suspected of treason.

    If you read the comments too by some of those soldiers denouncing
    Bergdahl – in the same breath one will say We do not really know what
    happened and then turn around and describe in detail how he is a traitor
    and walked away from his post. WTF? Smells like a vituperative
    campaign orchestrated by some others who might have something to hide
    and who had hoped that this would just go away as they thought he would
    never return alive.

  • cmj

    SERIOUSLY??? 5 Taliban for one deserter whose betrayal and actions resulted in the deaths of 6 honorable men? While Snowden is vilified as a traitor for trying to inform the American public about their rights??? President Obama: Snowden is also “someone’s son”! Ridiculous justification for criminal behavior! Bergdahl should be held responsible and face charges for desertion and the deaths of those men!

    As one report notes: ” For much of our history, we did make some efforts to track down deserters in wartime. Then we shot or hanged them. Or, if we were in good spirits, we merely used a branding iron to burn a large D into their cheeks or foreheads. Even as we grew more enlightened, desertion brought serious time in a military prison. At hard labor.”

    I am a die-hard democrat, but all of this is highly suspicious and I have completely lost faith in a president I had so much hope for. It seems his entire presidency is based on spin, control, and mis-truths. It is so hard not to feel betrayed and dismayed by one horrid scandal after another and another.

    • Lencho

      “Bergdahl is a deserter”

      Correction: I think Bergdhal is a deserter.

      You’re not privy to enough information to know

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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