Bowe Bergdahl: Peace Corps Volunteer or Killer Wanting to Rip Enemy's Face Off?

On Tuesday, MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell Reports presented two very different accounts of what kind of soldier Bowe Bergdahl was, first as a disillusioned free spirit who wished he'd joined the Peace Corps, then as a bloodthirsty warrior who wanted to rip the enemy's face off. [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

Talking to New York Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller, host Andrea Mitchell portrayed Bergdahl sympathetically: "I read somewhere, and it may have been your reporting, that he initially thought it was sort of joining the Peace Corps, that he was going to be helping the Afghan people, that maybe he didn't really understand. Because his disillusionment came so quickly..." Bumiller replied: "He did have some romantic notions...he was going over to Afghanistan to help the Afghan people. And those views were quickly dashed after he got there."

However, only moments later, former Army Sergeant Josh Korder, who served with Bergdahl in Afghanistan, described a drastically different person: "Well, honestly, I feel that there's a very different story than the one that was framed....once he came to Alaska and joined our unit, I mean the first thing Bergdahl said to one of the squad leaders was, 'Can I put the face of the first Taliban I kill on as a mask?' That is not somebody who wants to go there to help the Afghan people."

Mitchell actually blamed the huge discrepancy on the Obama administration: "Very, very interesting. And you have the real information. Because all of this is coming to us in bits and pieces, and frankly from the administration, I think there's been a real attempt to spin initially and try to re-frame this trade with the Taliban, the five Taliban leaders."


Here are excerpts of the June 3 exchanges:

12:07 PM ET

(...)

ANDREA MITCHELL: Let me ask you also about the circumstances of his recruitment. He comes from Idaho, he was home schooled, the family didn't have a television, they had lots and lots of books. It's an unusual background. And I read somewhere, and it may have been your reporting, that he initially thought it was sort of joining the Peace Corps, that he was going to be helping the Afghan people, that maybe he didn't really understand. Because his disillusionment came so quickly, within six weeks of his getting to post. Maybe you can fill in the details.

ELISABETH BUMILLER [NEW YORK TIMES]: Well, I think there's – there's several things going on here. One is that he was very much, as you describe, an outdoorsy free spirit in this rural part of Idaho, lived down the road from Sun Valley but his life – Hailey [Idaho] was not like that where he lived. He had an adventurous spirit, he had had a series of odd jobs and then turned to the military as – to try and get some focus in his life, which is not that unusual. His parents were not happy that he joined the Army but they supported him.

He did have some romantic notions from – based on what I've heard from his friends and from his father, that this was going – he was going over to Afghanistan to help the Afghan people. And those views were quickly dashed after he got there. This was in June of 2009, he arrived in May of 2009. It was a rough period for the war, American troops are spread very, very thin. President Obama just announced the initial surge but most of the troops had not gotten there.

There was – there's been reports of morale and discipline problems in his unit. Again, it was a very small outpost on the border with Pakistan, very dangerous area, a tough time for the war. And he saw things that he – his parents said his first emails home were very euphoric, he was going to be helping the Afghans as the military recruiters had told him. And pretty soon he saw that war is ugly and bloody and he became very disillusioned.

(...)

12:11 PM ET

MITCHELL: I'm joined by Josh Corder, a former Army sergeant who served in the same platoon as Bowe Bergdahl in Afghanistan, was part of the search mission to find him. Josh, thank you very much, thanks for joining us.

If you could take us back to what Bowe Bergdahl was like when he first joined – joined the service and how you saw what happened to him, the disillusionment that has been described.

JOSH KORDER: Well, honestly, I feel that there's a very different story than the one that was framed. I'm not really exactly sure if the story came from his hometown, but once he came to Alaska and joined our unit, I mean the first thing Bergdahl said to one of the squad leaders was, "Can I put the face of the first Taliban I kill on as a mask?" That is not somebody who wants to go there to help the Afghan people.

MITCHELL: Very, very interesting. And you have the real information. Because all of this is coming to us in bits and pieces, and frankly from the administration, I think there's been a real attempt to spin initially and try to re-frame this trade with the Taliban, the five Taliban leaders.

(...)

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC