By Brett Daniel Shehadey
Special Contributor for In Homeland Security
As the Taliban did not take prisoners as a rule of thumb, why was Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl the only American hostage in the war against the Taliban? Why was he kept alive? Perhaps the answer lies in the state of his capture, his purported personal views about America, the War in Afghanistan or even a possible conversion to Taliban Islam.
No matter what his beliefs or feelings for the U.S., he was an American soldier and the effort made for his release demonstrates America’s commitments to any POWs.
Two general interpretations are split in the minds of the American public as to Sgt. Bergdahl’s recent exchange for five top Afghan prisoners in Gitmo. The first is outrage: the release of terrorists linked to al-Qaida while continuing to fight al-Qaida . The second is appreciation: the exchange of enemy combatants in the ending of hostilities and American involvement for the symbolic and real victory of winning back our own.
In essence, both views share the grim truths of the latest actions from the White House and that also holds an untenable contradiction. The U.S remains divided and tired from war and most want to leave while the job remains unfinished. Moreover, the Taliban are linked to al-Qaida and will in all likelihood commit acts of terror against their own people and potentially the U.S. in the future. However, was Sgt. Bergdahl a real American patriot or a deserter?
A classified military report, radio transmission interception and testimony from some members of Bergdahl’s own platoon offer evidence of desertion before his capture in Afghanistan. Some team members blame him for the deaths of soldiers in countless search parties within the province of his capture. Some have suggested that he was even trying to meet up with the Taliban. The celebration for Bergdahl’s return scheduled in his hometown in Hailey, Idaho has been reportedly canceled, according to New York Times amid the mounting controversy.
Certainly Washington seized a moment to save a life. However, what if Bergdahl was never in any real danger? After all, the Taliban had held him since 2009. What if he was accepted by them as a sympathizer and eventually a brother? In that case, the threat of an American soldier going live on the air and condemning Americans and U.S. activities before a Muslim audience over coming years posed a critical security risk and a public diplomacy nightmare, Bergdahl could have been used as an instrument of massive propaganda for a recruitment campaign for new members among other things. It was not a trade of one man for one man but Sgt. Bergdahl for the lives of five top Taliban commanders, no less. Only these would satisfy Taliban terms of releasing Bergdhal and provide them with what they perceived as a more beneficial victory than keeping him for other uses.
Lastly, a motive to pursue his release might have come in some form as a gesture of goodwill with the Taliban in conjunction with previous U.S. diplomatic efforts.
As to the state and condition of Sgt. Bergdahl under captivity, it is reported he tried multiple times to escape, and his health was deteriorating. Even if he did become extremely compromised in his views over time, the American would never be accepted by the Taliban and after the war his life would become less useful to them. This would justify expediting any action to pursue a course for his release.
Five years of captivity by the Taliban would conceivably be the worst type of punishment one could ever encounter, even if they left you alone to read the Quran in a hut and constantly moved. You would never know what was coming next, if they would cut their losses at one juncture and you could hardly justify the brutality of such men even if you did not like the actions of your own native army or became a pacifist deserter. Also, it is disgraceful to be the only man captured in the War.
“It has encouraged our people. Now everybody will work hard to capture such an important bird,” said a Taliban commander associated with the negotiation process.
As for his possible punishment, if in fact Bergdahl was AWOL, U.S. House Armed Services Committee Member Duncan Hunter said, “It’s hard to imagine any circumstance where his captivity won’t be viewed as time served. The first order of business is securing his release, and I don’t think it does an ounce of good to begin contemplating that far ahead when the focus is on getting him home.”
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