If you are one of the few people in America not familiar with Serial, the podcast by the creators of This American Life, explaining it to you may be like describing the joys of chocolate to someone who has never tasted candy. You are missing out.
If you have been listening, you know that Season Two, featuring the story of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, began broadcasting in December. Like me, perhaps you thought host Sarah Koenig could never find as many twists and turns, as many unknown pieces of the puzzle, as many sides to the story as she did in the wildly popular Season One. Boy, were we wrong.
Season One focused on the murder of Hae Min Lee, a high school senior in Baltimore. Her boyfriend, Adnan Syed, an athlete and honor student, was convicted of killing her and is serving a life sentence. Syed was recently granted a hearing to present new evidence in the case, something most agree would not have been possible without the public outcry and attention created by the Serial broadcast.
As Bergdahl’s case unfolds on Serial’s Season Two, we learn more about the Army soldier who disappeared from his post in Afghanistan and was held for five years by the Taliban. As Serial brings amazing – and controversial – details to light through interviews with Bergdahl, Taliban members and others, and with the Army’s recently announced plans to court-martial Bergdahl, one attorney with expertise in military law has been flying across the country, making the rounds on national news shows to share his knowledge and opinions on how the case may go.
He just happens to be a Lake Highlands dad.
Stephen Karns is a former Major in the Army JAG (Judge Advocate General) Corps, now representing service members in all branches around the world when they’re facing adverse action under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. He doesn’t represent Bergdahl, but he’s frequently asked by CNN, Fox, MSNBC and other media outlets to comment on current cases in the military when the lawyer on the case can’t or won’t speak to the media.
Karns was gracious to answer my questions.
The Bergdahl case has garnered a great deal of public attention. Have you ever defended anyone this high profile?
I have defended other soldiers with cases in the news, in particular a soldier involved in Abu Ghraib.
Why would Bergdahl’s lawyers consent to letting their client speak in such a public forum?
Although I’m not representing Sgt. Bergdahl, I have once before advised my client to talk to the media in order to help control the narrative. That would be the reason for doing so. Obviously, there has to be an upside and the downside has to be low risk.
Are you surprised by the list of conspiracy theories promoted by the large numbers of people who listen to Serial, including the notion that Bergdahl was a spy?
On one hand, I’m not surprised by the number of conspiracy theorists out there because they always come out during newsworthy cases, and I routinely get calls and emails, about once a month, from someone who says that the government has imbedded a chip inside their brain as part of an experiment and now they want to get it removed. On the other hand, any time you hear something out of the norm, it can cause you to pause and think about the theories and wonder if there’s a grain of truth to some of them.
Some say that we will never know what really happened while he was running and during his captivity. Are you confident that we will know?
I don’t think we’ll ever know the truth because we have to rely on what he says his intentions were. Unfortunately, we would never be able to be certain as to whether he was telling the truth.
I’ve heard you say that Bergdahl will eventually plea bargain. Do you think that is fair, given that he says he was trying to do the right thing? Do you consider him a “whistleblower?” (Bergdahl says he left his post to highlight problems with leadership in his unit.)
That’s what I think, but of course, I don’t have all the evidence and do not know his ultimate goal and risk tolerance for pleading not guilty. If he pleads guilty because he is in fact guilty, I think that’s fairer than him being found guilty for something he didn’t do or found not guilty for something he did do. A guilty plea is an agreement, whereas a not guilty plea can, but not always, result in more of an injustice. I certainly do empathize for someone who is a relative junior member of a large bureaucracy where you can face repercussions for speaking out on an issue that you think needs to be aired. However, I do not view him as a whistleblower based on what I know. Again, I do not know all of the facts, but I would assume that there were lesser measures he could and should have taken but did not. However good his motives may have been, they resulted in a significant loss of government resources and the release of five mid-level Taliban.
Let’s shift gears. Tell me about your family.
I have 3 children, ages 5, 3 and 1. I was born and raised in Dallas and graduated from Richardson High School, Texas Tech undergrad and St. Mary’s law school. I joined the Army right after law school and served on active duty for three years, getting out in ’98. After 9/11/01, I joined the Army Reserves and served another three years and got out as a Major. I received three Army Commendation Medals and the Parachutist Badge.
Why did you choose to live in Lake Highlands?
What I love most about LH is the sense of community. It feels like being part of one big happy family where everyone is willing to extend a helping hand as if they were your own family.
You travel all over the world for our job. Where are your favorite places to go in LH?
My three favorite places to go in LH are the White Rock Elementary playground to watch my kids play and play with them, Offshore’s Nextdoor and Tony’s Pizza.
You can catch up on the Bergdahl case by listening to the Serial podcasts here.