In the June issue of RollingStone Michael Hastings wrote “America’s Last Prisoner of War,” a piece on Bowe Bergdahl, an American soldier captured by the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani Network in June of 2009. Hastings quoted previously unseen e-mails, sent days before his capture, from Bergdahl to his family expressing frustrated sentiments regarding the war effort. Given the Obama Administration’s plan to end the conflict through negotiation, Bergdahl’s fate may be essential to the US leaving Afghanistan.
Bergdahl has been a controversial figure since his capture. Military analyst Lt. Col. Ralph Peters told Fox News Bergdahl is “an apparent deserter” and “a liar… not a hero.” Many agree with this sentiment given Bergdahl’s departure from his post when captured, and now with the additional e-mailed evidence.
Yet there are also many advocating for Bergdahl’s safe recovery. Arizona Senator John McCain, famously a prisoner of war himself in Vietnam, has been outspoken in his support of Bergdahl. However, the New York Times reports (and RollingStone confirms) that when the White House organized, through secret negotiations, a prisoner exchange with the Taliban, it was the Senate (including McCain) who stalled the deal.
In October of 2011, famed Israeli prisoner of war Gilad Shalit was released by Palestinian terrorists in exchange for 1,027 Israeli-held prisoners. In the five years that Shalit was held captive, his face was plastered across Israel: a massive campaign entitled “Gilad is Still Alive” had his face on billboards, posters, bumper stickers, and t-shirts. The people of Israel pressured their government so effectively that the Netanyahu administration did not hesitate to release the large number of prisoners in exchange for Shalit.
Here in the United States, elected officials stalled negotiations that would have released 5 Taliban prisoners for Bergdahl. Moreover, the government has worked to ensure silence on matters regarding Bergdahl as much as possible: his family was required to sign non-disclosure agreements and have been encouraged to remain out of contact with the media. His fellow troops had to sign non-disclosures in order to leave Afghanistan.
His family has only recently decided to break their silence, giving interviews to the New York Times and RollingStone and releasing a video in the hopes of contacting those holding their son. Bowe Bergdahl’s name still remains widely unknown in American households.
The handling of the Bergdahl situation is yet another example of the Obama Administration failing to uphold its promise of increased government transparency. However, if the White House manages to negotiate Bergdahl to safety, it could be a huge political victory in an election year.
Not only a political victory, but Bergdahl could be the key to a military conclusion as well. As the New York Times feature on Bergdahl by Scott Shane and Eric Schmitt puts it, negotiating for the release of Bergdahl is “a crucial first step toward striking a broader political settlement with the Taliban to bring the decade-long war to an end.”