The popular podcast "Serial" launched its second season Thursday, shining a spotlight on the mysterious disappearance of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl — and allowing him to be heard publicly for the first time since he was freed by the Taliban in May 2014.
Bergdahl's dramatic rescue in eastern Afghanistan came nearly five years after he deserted his combat outpost and was captured, military officials said. Getting him back was part of a complex exchange that involved five Taliban prisoners who were being held at Guantanamo Bay — a move that drew sharp criticism from GOP lawmakers.
Eugene Fidell, Bergdahl's attorney, told NBC News that the podcast will help explain Bergdahl's motives for leaving his post.
"We've been anxious for the American people to know the facts and circumstances," Fidell said. "The more the people know, the better."
Recounting walking away from his military base in June 2009, Bergdahl says in the premiere episode of "Serial's" second season, "I'm going, 'Good grief, I'm in over my head.'"
"Suddenly, it really starts to sink in that I really did something bad. Or, not bad, but I really did something serious."
Bergdahl's vanishing made him the only U.S. service member ever to be held captive by enemy forces in Afghanistan.
As Bergdahl, 29, faces a court-martial and even a life sentence in prison for leaving his base, House Republicans are claiming in a new report that the Obama administration misled Congress about the effort to release the five Gitmo detainees.
Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee released a 98-page report Wednesday on its inquiry into the case of the so-called Taliban Five after lawmakers expressed outrage that the Obama administration did not give Congress a 30-day notice about transferring the detainees to Qatar, as required by law.
The report also provided behind-the-scenes details about the Defense Department's work with the Qataris, who played the middleman in negotiating the swap with the Taliban.
Bergdahl of Hailey, Idaho, was charged in March with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, a charge that carries up to life in prison. However, an Army officer has recommended that Bergdahl's case be referred to a special court martial, which is a misdemeanor-level forum. The five former Taliban leaders remain in Qatar, where they are prohibited from leaving the country or re-engaging in militant activities.
Fidell, his attorney, said he has repeatedly requested to have Bergdahl's interviews with the Army's investigating officer publicly released, but that the requests have been denied. He said he hoped the "Serial" interview would quiet Bergdahl's critics by at last allowing him to tell "his side of the story."
Berghdahl's saga is certain to gain even more attention — and scrutiny — because of "Serial," which became a phenomenon last year after focusing on Maryland man Adnan Syed, who is serving a life sentence in prison. Some believe Syed was wrongly convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend in 1999, and the podcast is credited with helping him win another hearing that will allow him to present new evidence.
"Serial" — a spinoff of the radio program "This American Life" — became the most popular podcast in history after it was downloaded more than 100 million times, making a household name out of narrator Sarah Koenig.
It's unclear exactly how many episodes fans will get to devour this season. Bergdahl for "Serial" spoke with filmmaker Mark Boal, who wrote and produced military-themed movies "The Hurt Locker" and "Zero Dark Thirty."
The first episode is titled "DUSTWUN" — or "duty status — whereabouts unknown." When Bergdahl left his base, he had a compass and a bottle of water with him.
American soldiers were dispatched in the days and weeks that followed in pursuit of a trail through rocky and hilly Taliban territory. While the Pentagon has not linked his abduction to deaths of any service members killed in the attempt to locate him, some soldiers' families have blamed him for walking off and branded him a deserter.
During a preliminary court-martial hearing in September, a Defense Department official testified that Bergdahl said he abandoned his post hoping to spark a massive search and get the attention of a general so he could discuss what he felt were problems with his unit's leadership.