On June 30, 26-year-old Idahoan Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will celebrate an important anniversary: his third year in captivity as an American prisoner of war.
Bergdahl has not enjoyed the household-name status of former POW Jessica Lynch, who was rescued to fanfare scarcely a month after her March 23, 2003 capture in Iraq, and still enjoys some celebrity as a motivational speaker. To advocacy organizations and to Bergdahl’s parents, it seems that his people and his government have forgotten him.
A spokesman for U.S. Central Command, John Wagner, said that Bergdahl is still believed to be held by the Haqqani network, a Taliban-affiliated insurgent group operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Other than the five videos released by the network between December 2009 and May 2011 showing Bergdahl and reports from Dec. 2011 that he had made an unsuccessful escape attempt, Wagner said no new information has emerged about his situation.
“We’re still actively looking for him and following leads wherever we can get them,” he said. “The Haqqanis are known for their communication security. They are just very quiet, and we’ve asked that they release him, and let him go back to his family.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), himself a former POW, told Human Events he has followed the captured soldier’s plight with interest.
“We’ve had briefings from the intelligence community; we’ve been doing everything we can to try to see what can be done,” McCain said. “I know that the men and women who are serving in the military are willing to do anything to rescue him. I’ve had briefings from the intelligence people, and they tell me it’s their highest priority.”
But notably absent from the discussion has been any commitment from President Obama that the country will not leave its own behind. After refusing interviews for nearly three years, Bergdahl’s parents briefly broke their silence earlier this month.
Not even a Hallmark card
“(President Obama) has never contacted us,” Sgt. Bergdahl’s mother, Jani Bergdahl, told the New York Times in a May 13 story. “We haven’t gotten a Hallmark card, we haven’t gotten a note signed by an aide, nothing. Is it because he thinks we’re not Democrats?”
A year ago, Robert Bergdahl, the sergeant’s father, tried to communicate with his son’s captors directly via YouTube, thanking them for keeping him alive and pleading for his safe return.
“We’ve been quiet in public, but we haven’t been quiet behind the scenes,” Robert Bergdahl said in the video, addressing his son. “You are not forgotten. You are not forgotten.”
When contacted by Human Events, Idaho National Guard Public Affairs Officer Col. Timothy Marsano, a liaison for the family, said they were no longer speaking to the media.
The Bergdahls also told the media this month that Sgt. Bergdahl had been part of a proposed prisoner exchange with five high-value detainees held in Guantanamo Bay. These negotiations between Obama and the Taliban stalled in March, and many lawmakers see bargaining with the Taliban regardless of the terms as a bad option for bringing Bergdahl home. McCain has vocally opposed the release of Taliban prisoners, and a spokesman for Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), a former Marine, said Hunter didn’t support the move either, adding language to the recently passed House Defense appropriations bill that would require the administration to give more notice and disclose more information about the transfer of detainees.
“(Hunter) understands probably better than anyone else in Congress the difficulties and dangers facing soldiers and Marines,” said Hunter’s Communications Director, Joe Kasper. “Don’t doubt for a second that locating this individual and securing his release is a high priority for the military…I don’t think that the only tool at our disposal is the release of five high-value detainees.”
Lynn O’Shea, director of research for the National Alliance of POW/MIA families, asked why the previous release of detainees from an Afghan military prison, a clandestine practice that has been ongoing periodically over the past few years while Bergdahl was in captivity, according to news reports published this month, has not resulted in Bergdahl’s freedom.
“POWs seem to rank on the negotiating side very low in priority,” she said, saying her research has found evidence of prisoners left behind in Korea, Vietnam, and even further back in America’s war history. O’Shea said she worried that even after the end of U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, Bergdahl would remain behind.
POWs on negotiating list
“Every time we go back to the peace table, POWs don’t even make the negotiation list,” she said. “This is so ingrained in the bureaucracy.”
On Memorial Day weekend the Veterans’ group Rolling Thunder held a memorial event in Washington, D.C. with Bob and Jani Bergdahl in attendance as the guests of honor.
Former Army sergeant Artie Muller, the organization’s founder and executive director, told Human Events the event would not be political in focus, but just a show of solidarity among veterans from a span of war eras for one of their own who they believe has been forgotten.
“(The Bergdahls) want to speak about their son, because the government isn’t doing anything about it,” Muller said. “They’re tired of waiting.”