Publisher’s Point: The Bowe Bergdahl Debate

2014-06-06_13-51-43Do we have a deserter and possible traitor on our hands, or do we need to decorate this soldier? Your guess is as good as mine, but I think this might be the appropriate place to commandeer a phrase used by Nike and just say, “You don’t know Bowe.” That would cover the waterfront for the moment, at least.

I am, of course, referring to the swirling controversy around the “release” of a soldier who had been held “captive by the Taliban,” and whose freedom was secured in exchange for, count ‘em, FIVE members of the Taliban held at Gitmo! One for five?! Does that seem a bit unbalanced to you, even if they were not terrorists? Is it at least reasonable to ask if we have crossed the line and are now officially negotiating with terrorists? And more importantly, why now?

I am not an expert on hostages, but my experience in Iraq gave me at least a bit of an understanding of what can happen when someone has been held for a long time. I experienced the joy of the return of both Jill Carrol and Douglas Woods, and the kid who kicked in the door and retrieved Woods is someone I know personally and I dearly love. I also mourned when the headless body of Margaret Hassan was found in Baghdad. A positive ID, for obvious reasons was never made, but no one doubts it was she.


Screwy things can happen to your head when you are in captivity, and because I was in Iraq when kidnapping was at an all time high, on two different occasions I was required to take the training that soldiers take on how to survive being captured. It included how to resist being “flipped,” or “Stockholmed,” (being mentally overcome by one’s captors, and perhaps even siding with them through coercion and psychological warfare,) how to “rehumanize” yourself to your captors, how to communicate with other captives, and even how to escape.
So, please indulge me for a moment as we navigate this mysterious minefield regarding the “safe return” of a soldier whose “health was deteriorating,” and let me tell you what a wild ride this has been for me. I was standing in line in the bank when the news broke that Bowe Bergdahl had been released. I had one pure moment of joy before I learned that the price tag had been 5 detainees from Gitmo. I sighed. This did not look good, but I was not going to get on board Assumption Airlines just yet. I made my deposit, and went on my way. The next footage I saw was of Bowe in Afghani garb, eating dinner. That was when my blood began to go cold. I realize that what I am about to say is completely subjective, but out loud I said, “They flipped him.” He was just waaay too comfortable, but I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. If he had been subjected to any and all manner of tortures, I wasn’t going to be too hard on him that he had been “assimilated.” If I was looking at some soldier guy version of Patty Hearst when she had been taken by the Symbionese Liberation Army, I’d still like to think that he had broken under duress. But I do not for one moment believe that the guy doesn’t know English any more. It’s just not linguistically possible to forget the mother tongue you spoke for nearly two decades, no matter how fluent you are in a second language.

Now we have testimonies of soldiers who served with this guy, and even went to look for him. Former Sgt Evan Buetow made it very clear that not only did everyone know that Bowe bailed, and went looking for the Taliban, but after Bergdahl’s “disappearance,” attacks on their FOB not only spiked, but were far more precise. Soldiers died looking for him, and those who served with him are ticked, to say the least. Bowe is not their fave guy. To them, he is a “zero,” and not a hero.

While for any number of reasons they may be reticent to speak up, surprisingly, a military writer for Time by the name of Mark Thompson did an excellent job of calling for justice, if for no other reason than honoring those who died as a result of Bowe allegedly videoed staggering off the FOB drunk, “looking for Afghanis to talk to.”

“Military justice can be swift and merciless, although that appears unlikely in this case. But the past cannot be erased, and it’s that legacy that gives the troops involved a markedly different view of Bergdahl and his rescue than that of most Americans sitting at home, paying scant attention to the nation’s only soldier missing in action in Afghanistan until Saturday. The reason, for anyone who has been in combat, is pretty simple. Soldiers never forget. Civilians rarely remember.”

And for the record, this civilian will take the word of a soldier like Sgt Evan Buetow over the Administration that brought you Benghazi any day.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner