The yellow ribbons supporting Bowe Bergdahl in his native town in Idaho are long gone.
Talk to the residents of Hailey about Bergdahl being officially charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy and you will be met with a wide range of emotions.
Beside Bergdahl’s family, one journalist might know more about the Hailey native than anyone else.
Sean Langan has spent more than a year following Bergdahl and the roller coaster of media coverage, from his disappearance to criminal charges.
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Langan has spent many of those hours trying to understand why Bergdahl intentionally walked away from his camp and became captured.
Looking at the picturesque mountains surrounding Hailey, Langan can only speculate what went through Bergdahl’s mind.
“I know he used to go off in these mountains. I always thought perhaps that’s one reason he walked off base, because every other American soldier would be looking out thinking, ‘I don’t want to go there,’ but he would look at it and remind him of Idaho, and he probably felt he could walk those mountains without coming to harm. And he paid for that mistake,” Langan explained.
Langan knows firsthand the dangers of the Middle East after being kidnapped by the Taliban himself.
For 10 years, Langan worked as a war journalist in Iraq and Afghanistan, covering American and British involvement in the Middle East.
Langan was armed only with a camera and eventually sat down with Taliban members to talk war.
“That first encounter was incredibly, highly charged with adrenaline. They tell you to go to meet in some village. You would be blindfolded and end up in a trunk of a car. The irony, I always remember thinking this is how it would feel to be kidnapped. Then you get out. They take off the blindfold and you do an interview,” Langan reminisced.
“That commander took pity on me. He said, ‘Look, you don’t want to do this too often because we took a vote on whether to kill you, kidnap you or let you do the interview before you got here.’ You will never know which way the vote went until it’s too late. I didn’t heed that warning.”
In March of 2008, the Taliban invited Langan to film their training camps. Langan and his translator illegally crossed into Pakistan and realized that their invitation was a trap.
“I found myself in a dark cell accused of being a spy by the Taliban, and for the first time in my life, you could feel the physical presence of death,” he said.
For three months, Langan said he didn’t see sunlight, and endured repeated interrogations at gunpoint.
His only source of strength was a small picture of his sons that he hid inside his boot.
He said the Taliban continually threatened him with violence against his family.
While Langan was being held captive, his family was negotiating a ransom with the Taliban of around $200,000. A deal was reached to release Langan, but the Taliban made him suffer his last two days in captivity by forcing him to watch beheadings and shootings of enemy combatants, he said.
Fourteen pounds lighter and with five fewer teeth, Langan returned home and never went back to the Middle East.
A year later, Bergdahl was captured.
Langan wanted to help and reached out to Bergdahl’s parents.
The family agreed to interview with Langan, but the story changed after a detailed Rolling Stone article was published highlighting the controversy around Bergdahl’s capture.
Langan realized that the sleepy town of Hailey became a magnet for media outlets and skeptics who claimed Bergdahl was a traitor.
Bob and Jani Bergdahl pulled out of the interview and have never sat down formally with Langan, who said he feels empathy for Bergdahl. The Idaho native gained his freedom when the Obama administration swapped five Guantanamo Bay prisoners for him.
“It’s ironic it took me five years and I’ve come to Hailey to make a documentary about an American POW and this has been far more valuable than any counseling session I did back in London. It’s really a part of my healing process,” he said.
The documentary is still a work in progress.
“It was the greatest lesson in life. But if anyone wanted to give it to me again, I would literally shoot them. ... But I don’t regret it, bizarrely,” Langan said.