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Why Bowe Bergdahl is not an American “Gilad Shalit”

Israel Defense Minister Ehud Barak, PM Netnayhau, Gilad Shalit, IDF COS Benn Gantz October 18, 2011

The Times of Israel published a story endeavoring to equate the five year kidnapping and captivity of IDF solider Gilad Shalit with US Army enlisted man Bowe Bergdahl who went AWOL and subsequently was held captive for five years by the Haqqani Taliban, “American ‘Gilad Shalit’ freed from captivity in Afghanistan”.

The time span may have been the same for both soldiers. However, the circumstances and outcomes were not the same.

Both were imprisoned by terrorist groups, Hamas and other Palestinian terrorists in Shalit’s case, the Taliban in Bergdahl’s instance. Both prisoner releases involved intermediaries, Germany and Egypt in the case of Shalit; Qatar in the instance of Bergdahl.  The numbers of prisoners exchanged for the release of Shalit were lopsided, over 1,027 Palestinian prisoners to secure Shalit’s release.  Those released had been responsible for the deaths of several hundred Israeli citizens.

Contrast that with the five Afghan Taliban commanders in the prisoner exchange for Bergdahl.  Few in number, however, they were involved in the one of the worst genocides committed in Afghanistan by the Taliban in 1998 involving the massacre of more than 8,000 Hazara Shia men, women and children in Marar- I- Sharif. The release of five Taliban commanders and war criminals, who perpetrated that genocide, has raised considerable questions by Chairmen and Ranking members of both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees and other Members of Congress. There have been calls for investigations of the circumstances behind Bergdahl’s actions in 2009, as well as, whether the President’s actions may have violated the law regarding negotiations with terrorists.  Then there are possible repercussions in Afghanistan and the Muslim Ummah for these Taliban commanders who are veritable   rock stars in international Jihadism. They may pose a serious threat when released from a year’s detention in Qatar.  Oatar, whose Emir had acted as an intermediary in the prisoner exchange that released Sgt. Bergdahl.

Shalit’s kidnapping and release

Shalit was kidnapped at gun point on June 25, 2006 after an attack by terrorists from the Palestine Resistance Committee using underground tunnels on his tank unit stationed at the Keren Shalom crossing on the southern Israel Gaza frontier.  He was released on October 18, 2011 after an agreement had been reached by German and Egyptian negotiators for an exchange with Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.  Hamas initially denied International Red Cross requests for confirmation, instead directly contacting his parents six days later indicating that he was a prisoner and would be treated in accordance with Islamic law.  Repeated Israeli and French government and international requests were made for IRC visits in accordance with the Geneva Convention. The only contact with the outside world during Shalit’s incarceration in Gaza were three letters, an audio tape, and a DVD that Israel received in return for releasing 20 female Palestinian prisoners.   Shalit’s parents petitioned both Israel President Peres and PM Netanyahu and mounted rallies for rescue of their son in both Israel and abroad.  Because of the family’s dual Israeli French citizenship they had the support of then French President Nicolas Sarkozy endeavoring to pressure Hamas for release of their son.

PM Netanyahu’s Remarks upon Shalit’s Release

Shalit, when freed was greeted by the IDF Chief of Staff, Benny Gantz, then Defense Minister Ehud Barak and PM Netanyahu.  There were no questions about Shalit’s loyalties.  Shalit’s parents were grateful despite disagreements with PM Netanyahu over tough negotiations involving problematic release of Palestinian prisoners, many with blood on their hands.  Most Israelis approved the exchange to secure Shalit’s release.  PM Netanyahu noted in his remarks at the time of Shalit’s release:

Two-and-a-half years ago, I returned to the Prime Minister’s Office. One of the principal and most complicated missions that I found on my desk, and which I set my heart to, was to bring our abducted soldier Gilad Shalit back home, alive and well. Today, that mission has been completed.

It entailed a very difficult decision. I saw the need to return home someone whom the State of Israel had sent to the battlefield. As an IDF soldier and commander, I went out on dangerous missions many times. But I always knew that if I or one of my comrades fell captive, the Government of Israel would do its utmost to return us home, and as Prime Minister, I have now carried this out. As a leader who daily sends out soldiers to defend Israeli citizens, I believe that mutual responsibility is no mere slogan – it is a cornerstone of our existence here.

While the release of Shalit in exchange for over 1,027 Palestinian prisoners was controversial PM Netanyahu noted the precautions Israel took in his remarks at Gilad’s release:

But I also see an additional need, that of minimizing the danger to the security of Israel’s citizens. To this end, I enunciated two clear demands. First, that senior Hamas leaders, including arch-murderers, remain in prison. Second, that the overwhelming majority of those designated for release either be expelled or remain outside Judea and Samaria, in order to impede their ability to attack our citizens.

For years, Hamas strongly opposed these demands. But several months ago, we received clear signs that it was prepared to back down from this opposition. Tough negotiations were carried out, night and day, in Cairo, with the mediation of the Egyptian government. We stood our ground, and when our main demands were met – I had to make a decision.

And today, now Gilad has returned home, to his family, his people and his country. This is a very moving moment. A short time ago, I embraced him as he came off the helicopter and escorted him to his parents, Aviva and Noam, and I said, ‘I have brought your son back home.’ But this is also a hard day; even if the price had been smaller, it would still have been heavy.

Bergdahl’s Alleged AWOL led to his capture by the Taliban.

On June 25, 2009 Sgt. Bergdahl walked away from his forward operational base in Afghanistan with only water, a knife, a compass, a digital camera, notebook and knapsack with some clothes only to be captured by Taliban forces.  He went Absent without Leave (AWOL) an action punishable, if proven, under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.  These roving Taliban fighters passed him along to captivity at a Haqqani base along the Afghanistan Pakistan frontier.  There are indications he may have been moved into a Taliban safe haven inside Pakistan.  Unlike Shalit, Bergdahl emailed his parents indicating that he had effectively deserted.  The Christian Science Monitor cites  a 2012 Rolling Stones article containing these email exchanges with his father by Bowe Bergdahl:

The US army is the biggest joke the world has to laugh at. It is the army of liars, backstabbers, fools, and bullies. The few good SGTs are getting out as soon as they can, and they are telling us privates to do the same.”

I am sorry for everything here. These people need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid, that they have no idea how to live.”

In his final message, Bergdahl refers to having mailed home boxes with his uniforms and books.

“Feel free to open them, and use them,” he wrote.

Later that night, Bowe Bergdahl’s father Bob Bergdahl, a UPS truck driver, sent his son an email from their home in Hailey, Idaho, with the subject line: OBEY YOUR CONSCIENCE!

Bergdahl, while he lived in confinement participated in making several proof of life ideas beseeching the US government to rescue him, while accusing American coalition forces of human rights violations of the Afghan people.

Robert Bergdhal at Boise News Confererence. Source: ABC news

The Senior Bergdahl’s Bizarre White House Invocation and Tweets

On June 1, 2014 a tearful Robert Bergdahl at a Boise news conference proclaimed in a video that he was proud of what his son Bowe had done for the Afghan people:

But most of all, I’m proud of how much you wanted to help the Afghan people, and what you were willing to do to go to that length,” Bob Bergdahl said, fighting back tears during a press conference in Boise. “I’ll say it again: I’m so proud of how far you were willing to go to help the Afghan people. And I think you have succeeded.

The Tuesday before the past weekend release of Sgt. Bergdahl, the senior Bergdahl exchanged Tweets with the Taliban spokesperson using a graphic of him against the backdrop of the Muslim profession of faith, the Shahada, with the demand to “Free All Guantanamo Prisoners”.  He subsequently took down that exchange of Tweets.  Moreover, at the conclusion of Saturday Rose Garden announcement of Sgt. Bergdahl’s release, the father invoked a frequently recited Qur’anic ayah.  Note this email from a colleague, Clare Lopez cited in a post by former Florida Congressman, Allen B. West on his blog, Steadfast and Loyal:

What none of these media is reporting is that the father’s (SGT Bowe Bergdahl’s father Bob) first words at the White House were in Arabic – those words were “bism allah alrahman alraheem” – which means “in the name of Allah the most gracious and most merciful” – these are the opening words of every chapter of the Qur’an except one (the chapter of the sword – the 9th) – by uttering these words on the grounds of the WH, Bergdahl (the father) sanctified the WH and claimed it for Islam. There is no question but POTUS knows this.

Loyalty of Bergdahl Questioned by Army vets in Same Unit

CNN’s Jake Tapper in an article noted that members of Sgt. Bergdahl’s platoon were aggrieved over the loss of comrades in the search after he went missing, “Fellow soldiers call Bowe Bergdahl a deserter, not a hero”.

Note these comments from the Tapper CNN article of his former Army platoon members of the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, and 25th Infantry Division:

At least six soldiers were killed in subsequent searches for Bergdahl, and many soldiers in his platoon said attacks seemed to increase against the United States in Paktika province in the days and weeks following his disappearance.

“Any of us would have died for him while he was with us, and then for him to just leave us like that, it was a very big betrayal,” said former U.S. Army Sgt. Josh Korder, who has the name of three soldiers who died while searching for Bergdahl tattooed on his back.

“I don’t think I could have continued to go on without being able to share with you and the people the true things that happened in this situation,” Korder said Monday. “Because if you guys aren’t made aware of it, it will just go on, and he’ll be a hero, and nobody will be able to know the truth.”

Then there is Bowe. Bergdahl’s admission of why he took off that fateful day in June 2009:

E-mails reported by the late Michael Hastings in Rolling Stone in 2012 reveal what Bergdahl’s fellow infantrymen learned within days of his disappearance: He told people that he no longer supported the U.S. effort in Afghanistan.

“The future is too good to waste on lies,” he wrote to his parents. “And life is way too short to care for the damnation of others, as well as to spend it helping fools with their ideas that are wrong. I have seen their ideas and I am ashamed to even be American. The horror of the self-righteous arrogance that they thrive in. It is all revolting.”

Bergdahl wrote to them, “I am sorry for everything. The horror that is America is disgusting.”

Concluding Comments

Notwithstanding these email remarks from Bergdahl, some believe that five years captivity under the Taliban may be more than enough punishment and that he deserves to receive treatment and rehabilitation.  After he has recovered then conduct of possible investigations and military tribunals may be another matter. Only time will tell.

By contrast Gilad Shalit today is a sports columnist for Israeli daily Yediot Ahronoth, a welcomed public figure at sporting events in Israel.  He also suffered five years of imprisonment. Unlike Bergdahl he was loyal to his IDF buddies and did not betray his country.  Bergdahl’s actions and those of his father are both questionable and disturbing. Their actions are compounded by President Obama’s release of Taliban Jihad commanders arranged by international Muslim Brotherhood supporter, the Emir of Qatar.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.