Witness: Bergdahl spoke of leaving outpost to be hitman in Russia

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Accused Army deserter Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is shown in this undated file photo. U.S. Army
Accused Army deserter Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is shown in this undated file photo. U.S. Army

Witness: Bergdahl spoke of leaving outpost to be hitman in Russia

by: Sig Christenson | .
San Antonio Express-News | .
published: August 18, 2016
 Hours before disappearing from his combat outpost in eastern Afghanistan, then-Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl asked a fellow soldier how one might become a hitman, saying he'd dreamed of joining the Russian mafia as an assassin, according to a sworn statement filed by Army prosecutors.
 
And Bergdahl said he had a plan to do it, according to the affidavit by the soldier, Shane Cross, which provided new ammunition to observers who believe Bergdahl was troubled to the point of delusional, whether or not he was a deserter as charged.
 
"He mentioned his plan would be to go through Pakistan and into India and join the Russian mob," Cross told Army investigators. "Prior to the deployment he had claimed to speak Russian, that he had learned while working on a fishing boat that traveled to Europe."
 
The next morning, Bergdahl was nowhere to be found on Observation Post Mest, having left around midnight June 30, 2009 to embark on a 19-mile trek. His goal had been to alert commanders to problems he saw in his unit, he later told investigators, but the Taliban quickly captured him.
 
Before the day was done, the Army launched a massive and fruitless search for Bergdahl, who was promoted to sergeant while he was held prisoner for nearly five years. Today he is facing a possible life sentence, awaiting trial on charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.
 
The statement from Cross, who counted himself among Bergdahl's friends, was released Tuesday by Army prosecutors who want to cite evidence that Bergdahl had sought out a number of adventures — one of them trying to join the French Foreign Legion — to show his intent and motive to leave the remote outpost.
 
Defense lawyers late Tuesday countered, saying the government's argument was "irrelevant to either charge" and that allowing statements by Cross and others into evidence would "waste time," "confuse the issues" and "unfairly prejudice Sgt. Bergdahl."
 
The issue could be settled Monday at a hearing at Fort Bragg, N.C.
 
Bergdahl and his attorneys have framed his disappearance from Observation Post Mest as a heroic effort to alert high-level commanders to leadership problems in his unit. Cross's statement, and others released Tuesday, portrayed a different person — a fantasist on a quixotic quest that appeared to have little to do with concerns over his command climate.
 
"Bowe has always been trying to find himself," his brother-in-law, Michael E.C. Albrecht, told investigators in 2004, according to one of the documents. "He wants to be a warrior but also has a moniker on Facebook as a wandering monk."
 
Bergdahl's attorney, Eugene Fidell, would not comment Tuesday about the prosecution's move, which came in response to a defense motion to exclude evidence.
 
One expert said the prosecution's goal was clear enough — to prove every element of a crime.
 
"The desertion Bergdahl was charged with is a 'specific-intent' crime, which means the government has to prove Bergdahl's intent in leaving." said retired Air Force Lt. Col. Rachel Vanlandingham. a professor at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles.
 
The latest documents amplify aspects of Bergdahl's history that became public in March with the release of a 373-page transcript of chief investigator Lt. Gen. Kenneth Dahl's interview with Bergdahl, including his statement that he tried to join the Foreign Legion out of a sense of adventure.
 
An old friend, Kim Dellacorva-Tate, told investigators Bergdahl was shy and immature and on a spiritual journey when he flew to Paris in 2005 to join the Legion in an attempt to overcome social isolation, adding, "He said they laughed at him because he was a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, 19-year-old kid."
 
Bergdahl was abruptly cut loose from the Coast Guard in his first weeks of basic training, telling Dellacorva-Tate that he'd been given a psychological discharge, according to her statement released Tuesday.
 
"I believe he couldn't handle it, even though he said he faked it," Dellacorva-Tate said.
 
Prosecutors said in court documents that Bergdahl, 30, of Hailey, Idaho, "sought out adventure both at home and abroad" that included his trip to France, sailing with a crew from New York to Seattle through the Panama Canal, joining a small fishing boat crew in Alaska, and working on a firing range in the South, all prior to enlisting in the Army.
 
Prosecutors said Bergdahl "discussed his desire to continue his adventure-seeking lifestyle." Still in the United States before deploying in 2009 and recovering from an infection, he heard that his comrades in Afghanistan weren't seeing much action.
 
"He wasn't happy that they were sitting around," Jason Fry, who served with Bergdahl then, said in one of the statements. "He told me that if this deployment is lame, he was going to walk into the mountains of Pakistan."
 
A civilian in Cincinnati when interviewed two years ago, Fry told the Army that Bergdahl "persisted with the idea," explaining, "His mentality was that he wanted to go into the mountains of Pakistan and be a mercenary, and stated that he would just go off and work for whomever was out there."
 
After a month in Afghanistan, prosecutors said in court documents, Bergdahl was telling others about his plans to join the Russian mafia by hiking through Pakistan and India.
 
The podcast Serial, using an interview by a documentary producer Mark Boal, said Bergdahl took $300 from his bank account in U.S. and Afghan currency — cash he planned to use to bribe people as he ran from his outpost to Forward Operating Base Sharana. In the interview, he conceded he misjudged his ability to execute the plan.
 
It wasn't the first time he'd failed to know his limitations. Cross recalled guarding a gate with another soldier one night at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif., when they heard a rustling in the trees and pointed a flashlight at it.
 
It was Bergdahl, trying to sneak up on them.
 
"He had low-crawled about 100 meters to get to us," Cross told Army investigators. "He had taken off his boots because he said it would make him sneakier. We spent about an hour looking for his boots, because he forgot where he left them."
 
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