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In ‘Serial’ podcast, new details about Bowe Bergdahl’s torture emerge

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, second from right, leaves the courthouse with his defense attorney, Lt. Col. Franklin Rosenblatt, left, after an arraignment hearing for his court-martial in Fort Bragg, N.C., on Dec. 22. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake
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After escaping into the Pakistani wilderness and being recaptured, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s treatment in captivity took a turn for the worse: He was placed in a cage, moved repeatedly and tortured by a man who sliced his chest repeatedly with a razor blade, he said in an interview published Thursday.

Bergdahl’s comments appeared in the newest episode of the podcast “Serial.” The razor cuts were done slowly, to inflict maximum pain, he said.

“Don’t think one or two cuts at a time. Think, like probably, 60 to 70 cuts at a time,” he said. “And they did it slowly.”

Bergdahl’s participation in the podcast has provided an episodic window into his five years in captivity as the Army moves forward with his court-martial for walking away from his infantry platoon’s tiny combat outpost in Afghanistan’s Paktika province late on June 29, 2009. He was captured by the Taliban within hours the following morning and held for the next five years over the border in Pakistan by the Haqqani network, a powerful militant group affiliated with the Taliban.

[Disillusioned and self-deluded, Bowe Bergdahl vanished into brutal captivity]

Bergdahl, 29, faces charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, and up to life in prison if convicted. He was recovered by a Special Operations team in Afghanistan in May 2014 in a controversial prisoner swap approved by the Obama administration in which by Taliban officials were released into the supervision of the Qatari government.

Bergdahl walked away from his base deliberately to cause chaos so that he could get the attention of a general, he has told investigators since his recovery. He planned to air grievances about his unit, he said. His mental capacity at the time he disappeared has been called into question by a panel of psychiatrists, Bergdahl’s legal team said in the September hearing.

The last two “Serial” episodes — one released Thursday, and one published Dec. 24 — have more closely examined Bergdahl’s captivity and escape attempts. The details have not been verified in great detail by the U.S. military, but Terrence Russell, a defense official who has interviewed more than a hundred Americans held in captivity overseas, said during a preliminary hearing in Bergdahl’s case in September that he found the soldier credible and to be telling the truth.

In the Dec. 24 episode, Bergdahl said his most successful escape attempt came from a “mountain fortress” of sorts through a second-story window after he picked padlocks holding him with a nail. He used a combination of chains connected to the padlocks and bed sheets to form a makeshift rope, and went out an open window, he said.

Bergdahl said he stepped off a cliff accidentally and “stupidly” while trying to put distance between him and his captors while fleeing in the dark.

“I don’t know how long I don’t know how big of drop it was, but it was a big enough drop for me to think on the way down it was like that initial drop was like, ‘Oh, good grief,'” Bergdahl said. “But then I kept falling to the point where I got over the surprise that I was falling, and I started thinking you’ve got to be kidding me. It cannot be this far down.”

He landed on a dry riverbed. He remained free for about eight more days, according to testimony in his September legal hearing, but he became progressively more desperate as injuries to his left arm and leg and starvation caught up with him. He was eventually recaptured and put in the cage afterward — a new tactic in his imprisonment.

[In ‘Serial’ podcast, Bowe Bergdahl says he likened himself to Jason Bourne]

Bergdahl said in the episode published Thursday that the cage was about six feet wide, a detail he has claimed before. He tried to get out of the cage in ensuing days by rusting the bars with water, but found it relatively hopeless. In one escape attempt, he pried up particle board that had been laid on the bottom of the cage, but panicked when he realized it had expanded and wouldn’t go all the way back down to cover his tracks.

“I don’t know how to explain it, but in that one night it left me exhausted and just drained, you know, for months,” Bergdahl said. “And I don’t think I ever came back from it. I never stopped putting water on the bars. I never tried stopping to escape. But that night seemed to burn something out of me that has never came back. I just lost something inside of me but – I don’t know, it’s hard to explain, but things didn’t matter anymore.”

Bergdahl was arraigned at Fort Bragg, N.C., on Dec. 22. His next hearing is expected to take place next week.