Bowe Bergdahl, US soldier captured by Taliban: A reflection on his words and time for prisoner exchange
Sun 16th Feb 2014
Bowe Bergdahl is an American prisoner of war from Idaho. Captured in Afghanistan in June 2009, he is thought to held by the Taliban-aligned Haqqani network in Pakistan. There have been a series of videos documenting his time in captivity including the latest video (not released by the Pentagon) which claims to show recent proof of life with a reference to December 24th 2013.
It is my belief that Bowe is still alive. I inquired as to his health in the Autumn of 2013 via my Pakistan Taliban contacts who said they would try to help me. An initial message received read, “I’m trying to locate Bergdahl but groups continuously move around owing to security reasons. It can be very difficult to track down some groups.” I had earlier in 2013 been informed by the Islamic Emirate (Afghan Taliban) that he was “well, in a safe house and that the Americans know what they need to do to release him.”
I forwarded six questions on Bowe’s health and was expecting a response when Hakimullah Mehsud, leader of Tehrik-I-Taliban (TTP) was killed in a drone strike just after he had appeared on film with the BBC discussing his openness to dialogue with the Pakistan government. After years of conflicts and thousands of lives lost from all sides, the All Parties Commission had unanimously voted to try for talks with the Taliban with military action as a last resort.
Naturally, following this assassination, the focus was not on the American prisoner but who would take over from Mehsud and how his death could be avenged. However, following recent conversations, I feel now is a good time to revive discussion on prisoner exchange as 2014 is a crucial year for Afghanistan with troop withdrawal and the Nawaz Sharif government in Pakistan is now actively engaged in dialogue with TTP via appointed advocates for both sides.
With regard to Bowe, I would be happy to act as a mediator if needed as the route to release the American is not through aggressive military action but by peaceful negotiation and prisoner exchange. Bowe is both a prisoner and a guest and is being well fed by those responsible for his care. Sources indicate he may have been helping out teaching English at a Madrassa, thereby keeping occupied during captivity.
Bowe’s father Robert remains optimistic for his son’s return. He is learning Pashto, the language spoken in the Tribal Areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and raises money for a charity that replants trees where the landscape has been devastated by war. It is his way of giving something back to Afghan people and acknowledging those that are taking care of his son as a Prisoner of War.
Robert Bergdahl regularly advocates for peace and in interviews has stated:
“after 30 plus years of war in Afghanistan even the trees have given up, even the trees have died… We plant trees for our children and our grandchildren. We plant trees because we have hope in the future. I will do everything I can to help the Afghan people. That mostly amounts to my prayers and advocating for them in front of powerful people but God is Greatest!”
As an independent human rights activist, I too am concerned for Bowe’s safety, not from his captors who are trying to hold to the high, principled teachings of Islam concerning prisoners, (the antithesis of Guantanamo) but due to US drone strikes which frequently target “alleged” insurgents in the Tribal Areas. I was informed by a contact that, “an airstrike was launched to bomb the area where he was kept. To kill them all. His captors died and surprisingly Bowe survived. He ran away but could not track the path to break lose and after 3 to 4 days of wandering in plains and jungle he was caught again by Talibans …. So, he is still there …”
Bowe’s alleged captor, Mullah Sangeen Zadran was reported killed in a drone strike in September 2013. It is important that original promises be kept by leadership to maintain credibility in the eyes of the international community. The families of the Taliban prisoners put forward for exchange equally want their family members returned safety and in good health.
As a video of Bowe was recently sent to me again by insurgents, I decided to make a transcript of Bowe’s words in captivity which reveal his thoughts on the war in Afghanistan, treatment of prisoners and his own experience in captivity.
The last message I received from another contact said, “I will try my best to deliver this message to Bowe, as soon as possible, and if Allah wills.” However my contact also said the following, “they (US) have lost thousands of their soldiers in this war, and just one more soldier wont make any difference to them. They don’t have hearts in their chests. They can’t feel the condition of Bowe’s family.”
The words of Bowe Bergdahl on video
“My name is Bowe Bergdahl. I was born on March 28 th 1986 in the city of Sun Valley in the state of Idaho in the United States of America. My blood type is A positive. The name of my mother before she was married was Jani Larson. My rank is a First Class in the Ohio First Unit based at Fort Richardson Alaska.
I came to Afghanistan May 3rd 2009 and was positioned in the Pahtika province of Afghanistan in the district of Sharana and ... after I was captured, I became a prisoner of war with the Taliban and far from the continuous brainwashing and false hype up and propaganda of the army. I had the chance to see with my own eyes the people I was supposed to consider my enemy, then I had the chance to live around them and to communicate with them and to understand them better than I was told in the army.
By knowing the brutality and the way my country has ravaged the land and the people ... one would expect [my captors the Taliban] would just treat me as my army has treated their Muslim prisoners in Bagram, Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and many other secret prisons hidden around the world. I bear witness I was continuously treated as a human being with dignity. I had nobody deprive me of my clothes and take pictures of me naked. I had no dogs barking at me and biting me, as my country has done to their Muslim prisoners in the jails that I mention. Even though I am a prisoner of war however I had a chance to rethink a lot of things and ask myself questions that I never asked myself before. At this time my country is losing [and] has lost hundreds of its soldiers in Afghanistan in this long and deadly war.
One of the biggest illusions that the army gives us coming over here as a soldier is that we are coming over here to fight terrorists, just a group of men that are randomly and haphazardly attacking us across the country, but it is one of the biggest illusions that is misplaced when you actually meet these people.
There is not a group of men that are ruling the areas by fear because towns are afraid. It is not just a group of men that roam around the country and decide that they are going to attack certain targets here and there. We are fighting a country and a people that are well organised and extremely smart on how to fight. I keep bringing up a point of history to people that I talk to. You simply need to look at their history for you to understand that the Afghan people know how to fight and they have lived this way since the beginning of their people.
So know all you soldiers out there that are getting ready to come out here for the first time because of the stupidity of our country and our leaders: know you are not fighting stupid farmers, know you are not fighting a small group of terrorist guerrilla fighters, know you are fighting an organised guerrilla army that has perfected the role of warfare better than any country has ever perfected it in history, Ok. You are not fighting stupid people. You are fighting very smart people that know exactly how to kill us [and] are extremely patient and know how to wait for the right moment so stop [us] believing the illusions.
And so to my family members, my fellow soldiers in the army and to their families, and all the regular Americans, do we, or even should we, trust those that send us to be killed in the name of America because our leaders, be it Obama or Bush or whoever, are simply the puppets... How can we trust those changeable names whom we see leading us to the same holes America keeps falling into over and over and over again, be it Vietnam, Japan , Germany, Somalia, Lebanon, Iraq, and now its Afghanistan, the next hole for us to fall into. So how do we believe that these leaders want or even know what is good for their nation.
I am afraid to tell you that this war has slipped through our fingers and it is just going to be the next Vietnam, unless the American people stand up and stop all this nonsense. America and NATO go to great extent to hide the actual real numbers of those killed on the battlefield because if the real numbers were put into the news, if the American people and people of allied nations saw these actual numbers, they would be horrified. Then they would immediately stand up against their governments and refuse to let their money be thrown away, be burned for nothing. They would refuse to let their family members [and] their children be slaughtered, just sent off to die like the government is sending us to go do. If they actually saw the numbers [of those killed], they would refuse to let the government continue to lead them anywhere.
You know that is why there are people paid to make sure the actual numbers never surface in any press conference or news or news station. If you want to find actual numbers you have to dig and you have to try really really hard to find them because they are truly horrific numbers and unacceptable numbers.
It is our arrogance and stupidity that has made us so blind that we refuse to see the blunders and mistakes that we continue to make over and over again. It seems to be [the] stupidity of war and that keeps us jumping off these cliffs, so how long before we refuse to let our government institution and our leaders lead us to be killed like animals in a slaughter.
As a soldier in the US army, I find it my duty and responsibility to let my people know exactly what the truth is behind this facade that is the army and to let them know the truth behind the wars ... that our governments keep throwing us into. History will record [the] oppressive and horrific acts that we use in all these wars that our government has thrown us into, these acts will be recorded in history, history will not forget what we have done. It will stand as proof for future generations of the world to look at and see that even the numbers and the facts prove that we have surpassed Hitler in his horror.
It was a huge shock to me and I came to realise when I got to Afghanistan that we do not care about the Afghan people, we just bomb and kill as many as we can regardless [of whether] they are Taliban or civilians. We seem to [go to] so much trouble to find the Taliban but really we do not care, you can not tell who is Taliban and who is not. Now we have even started using bombs that we have not used in the past that affect the fertility of the people in Afghanistan, that somehow messes with them so that babies are even [either] not born or born deformed.
We attack their honour. Is is not natural that people would hate us for this and want to take their revenge? We have forced them to strap large amounts of explosives to their precious bodies, to leave their homes and their children to kill us. My conclusion is that by coming here, we have not just put our own security in danger but [also caused] a lot of difficulties to our nations. Our administrations are leading our countries to destruction but they still try to lie to us and tell us that they are not.
The main reason they torture civilians is to gain information. That is the whole point of torture but what they do not realise, and are too stupid and foolish to realise or to figure out or to clearly see, is that these people, whether or not they are Mujahideen or civilians, that they are torturing are only increasing their hatred and reasons for killing American soldiers.
Father Robert and Son Bowe
The Mujahideen have not tortured me, they have not waterboarded me, they have not taken pictures of me naked. They have not done any of these things. The Mujahideen have not even come close to anything that looks like torture to us ... they have not insulted me in any way.
They have treated me as a regular human being. They have never deprived me of food or water. They have always made sure I had plenty of it. I get plenty of sleep. Yeah, I got chain chains on my ankles, [kind of] comes with ... being a prisoner of war. They have not chained me in a way that has caused my body to break, they have not inhibited my movement to the ... degree that basically caused my body to slowly degrade.
They never treated me as if I was a problem, they treated me ... as if I was a friend, a guest. You know, they joked with me. They have done exactly what they said they would do and as their religion tells them to do. As proof of this I was actually given a toothbrush, toothpaste. I take regular showers. I have soap; they have disinfectant for water. I have shaving equipment, I can shave. There is everything.
So be very thankful that these people who have me as their prisoner do not follow the same rules as my own country does because if they did, I would be in so much pain right now but instead they give me food, give me meals as if I am a guest here. They give me water, I am taking showers, they are letting me shave by myself ... letting me exercise.
They are taking care of me in a way God has told them to take care of their prisoners. Instead of letting [out] their anger and their hatred for the way our country has treated their fellow family members, instead of taking their anger out on me, they are following their God. They are following their religion stronger than I have seen anybody follow their religion.
I would like to tell my dear family members and my friends that I am doing well, [that] I am healthy. They are taking care of me as a guest in someone’s home despite the chains and the limited amount of movement.
To my parents I keep putting these guys through a lot of hells. I am so sorry that it took me so long to actually do something with my life. Strangely enough I am making a lot of headway here with how I see things and so I am doing really good. So you do not need to worry about me. I’m healthy and well you know but I’m safe. And my dear friend E…. wherever you are, thank-you for all your love and kindness that you gave me.”
Robert and Jani Bergdahl remain positive Bowe will return home
The final words are from Bowe’s family in the hope that he may be shown this article to be forwarded by my Taliban contacts who have always been patient, helpful and respectful with regard to my efforts for peace and prisoner exchange.
“Today we learned that a new video of our son, U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, has been distributed by his captors. Naturally, this is very important to us and our resolve to continue our efforts to bring Bowe home as soon as possible. As we have done so many times over the past four and a half years, we request his captors to release him safely so that our only son can be reunited with his mother and father. Bowe – if you see this, continue to remain strong through patience. Your endurance will carry you to the finish line. Breathe!”
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad. She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”. She is also a survivor of US “collateral damage”.
This article first appeared at http://activist1.wordpress.com