Bowe Bergdahl Case: Screenwriter Mark Boal Sues U.S. Government Over Subpoena Threat

The Bowe Bergdahl case is facing more public scrutiny with Oscar-winning Screenwriter Mark Boal filing a lawsuit against the U.S. Government over his interview tapes with Bergdahl. Boal, the screenwriter of Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker planned to make a movie about the Bergdahl case along with director Kathryn Bigelow, and had taped his interviews with Bergdahl.

According to The Guardian, the Pentagon demanded the 25 hours of recordings Boal made with Bowe Bergdahl, who is currently awaiting a court martial for desertion. The military prosecutor who is pursuing Bergdahl threatened to subpoena the tapes from Boal after he refused to hand them over.

The lawsuit filed by Mark Boal names President Obama, Department of Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter, Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning, Army court-martial convening authority General Robert Abrams and U.S Army Prosecutor Major Justin Oshana, and asserts that Boal is protected by the First Amendment, and claims that the actions of the military prosecutor are illegal.

Bowe Bergdahl’s case was featured on the immensely popular podcast Serial that shot to fame after they covered the case of Adnan Syed in the first season. The second season detailed the Bergdahl case and many hours of Boal’s recordings were featured on the podcast, with his permission.

Bowe Bergdahl joined the United States Coast Guard in 2006, but was discharged 26 days later for psychological reasons. In 2008, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and was based in Alaska. His unit was deployed to Afghanistan in May 2009, and what happened after that is the subject of a lot of debate.

On June 25, 2009, Bergdahl’s only “friend” in the military was killed in a roadside bomb explosion. On June 27, 2009, Bergdahl sent an email to his parents where he said a variety of things including that he was “ashamed to be American.” He apologized in the email, although it’s not fully clear what for, and he referenced that his parents would be receiving some boxes of his stuff and they should feel free to use what they wanted.

Bowe Bergdahl
Bowe Bergdahl [Photo by U.S. Army via Getty Images]

A timeline of his ordeal was released by the Associated Press setting out the key dates and information. On the night of June 30, 2009, Bowe Bergdahl went missing, but even the circumstances surrounding his disappearance are conflicting. Bergdahl claimed that he fell behind while they were on patrol, the Taliban claimed they captured him after he got drunk off the base, and the U.S. Department of Defense said that Bergdahl walked off the base with three Afghan counterparts and he was believed to have been taken prisoner. The Pentagon investigation ultimately concluded that he walked away from his unit after becoming disillusioned.

On July 18, 2009, the Taliban released a video showing Bergdahl and his status was changed to “missing/captured.” A few other videos of Bergdahl were released over the course of his captivity, but the government was unable to pin down where exactly he was being held. At one point a Taliban leader claimed that Bergdahl was training them in bomb making and infantry tactics, but the Department of Defense denied this.


On May 31, 2014, Bowe Bergdahl was released after spending almost five years in captivity. His release was highly controversial because it involved exchanging him for five Guantanamo Bay detainees. In June 2014, the U.S. Army investigation determined that there was no evidence that Bergdahl had engaged in any misconduct during his time in captivity and he was returned to active duty.

In August 2014, another investigation was revealed, this one conducted by Major General Kenneth Dahl, and in March 2015, it was announced that Bergdahl was being charged with one count of “desertion with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty” and one count of “misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit or place.”

Despite the recommendation by more than one official that Bergdahl not face imprisonment, General Robert B. Abrams determined that Bergdahl should face court martial and he faces up to life in prison. His trial is set to begin in February 2017.

According to Deadline, Mark Boal began looking into Bowe Bergdahl’s case shortly after he was released from captivity. He interviewed Bergdahl several times, and in late 2015, he teamed up with Sarah Koenig, the host of the Serial podcast, to make the case the subject of Season 2. The prosecutor in charge of Bergdahl’s case wants to hear all 25 hours of Boal’s interviews with him, and is prepared to try to force him to give it up. Boal’s lawsuit is an attempt to head that subpoena off before it is even issued.

[Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images]