ENID, Okla. —
To date, there are 83,204 Americans unaccounted for from World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, Iraq, Afghanistan and other conflicts, according to the Department of Defense’s Prisoner of War Missing Personnel Office.
One soldier who no longer is missing is Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
On June 30, 2009, while serving in Afghanistan, Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban and has been held prisoner ever since.
Or he was until Saturday, when he was freed.
The tradition in the U.S. military is to leave no one behind. That is why the DPMO was established in 1993. Most of its work involves trying to find and analyze remains of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen lost in America’s wars, to finally bring them home.
But Bergdahl was America’s last known POW. On the surface, Bergdahl’s release is good news. An American soldier, held by enemy forces, has been freed.
But it is the rest of Bergdahl’s story that makes this whole affair unsettling.
Bergdahl was not captured in a firefight, or when enemy soldiers overran his unit’s position, or while on patrol. The Idaho native had reportedly grown disillusioned with the war in Afghanistan and, while supposedly trying to satisfy what a former colleague told NBC’s “Today” show was a sense of “wanderlust,” walked away from his unit, unarmed, determined to explore the Afghan mountains. Other sources say Bergdahl thought he could help the Afghan people by leaving his post.
Whatever his motives, Bergdahl was captured and held until his release, which did not come without a high price. In a prisoner swap, Bergdahl was released in exchange for the freeing of five high-ranking Taliban leaders.
The swap was brokered by Qatar, where the five will have to remain for the next year. They will no longer be jailed, however, and will, according to a source, be free to travel wherever and whenever they choose within that country.
In brokering the prisoner exchange, President Obama and his administration fulfilled America’s pledge to leave no son or daughter behind.
But at what cost?
Exchanging prisoners of war is hardly unprecedented. In fact it is as old as the country itself. George Washington conducted prisoner swaps during the Revolutionary War, as did James Madison during the War of 1812 and Abe Lincoln during the Civil War.
The five Taliban officials freed from Guantanamo Bay were truly bad guys, deemed dangerous enough to hold despite the fact the U.S. lacked enough hard evidence to try them.
Even if they spend their year cooling their heels in Qatar (and who thinks they won’t slip over the border at some point in the coming months), the filthy five will likely pose a renewed threat to this country in the future.
Then there’s the fact that while U.S. forces were actively searching for Bergdahl in the weeks after his capture, six soldiers died in the attempt to recover him.
Staff Sgt. Clayton Bowen, Private 1st Class Morris Walker, Staff Sgt. Kurt Curtiss, 2nd Lt. Darryn Andrews, Staff Sgt. Michael Murphrey and PFC Matthew Martinek all were killed while trying to locate and free Bergdahl. After a time, the endeavor was abandoned because it became known Bergdahl was being held in Pakistan.
The families of those six men never got the chance to put their arms around them and welcome them home. Bergdahl’s family will have that opportunity, which undoubtedly is a joy for them.
Imagine what they have been going through the last five years, missing their son, worrying, wondering what he was going through every day.
But even this happy family reunion seems somewhat off-kilter. Bergdahl’s father, Bob, has apparently immersed himself in Afghan culture since his son’s capture, growing a long beard and learning the Pashto and Urdu languages.
In fact, at the White House Rose Garden press conference announcing his son’s release, the elder Bergdahl spoke a few words in Pashto directed to his son, whom his father says might not remember how to speak English.
Then there’s the matter of the tweet directed to a Taliban spokesman and originating from Bob Bergdahl’s Twitter account.
“I am still working to free all Guantanamo prisoners. God will repay for the death of every Afghan child, ameen!” read the posting, which has since been deleted.
There are so many unanswered questions surrounding this story, so many disturbing, unsettling details.
An American soldier is coming home after years in enemy hands.
That’s the bottom line in this story. We should celebrate his freedom.
But the circumstances of his capture and captivity and the wisdom of turning terrorists loose to secure his freedom, are all questions that beg for answers down the road.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.