Duty Status: Whereabouts Unknown
June 7, 2012 7:36 PM   Subscribe

America's Last Prisoner of War by Michael Hastings (single page) - In the early-morning hours of June 30th, according to soldiers in the unit, Bowe approached his team leader not long after he got off guard duty and asked his superior a simple question: If I were to leave the base, would it cause problems if I took my sensitive equipment?

Yes, his team leader responded – if you took your rifle and night-vision goggles, that would cause problems.

Bowe returned to his barracks, a roughly built bunker of plywood and sandbags. He gathered up water, a knife, his digital camera and his diary. Then he slipped off the outpost.


In his final email to his parents on June 27, 2009 Bowe Bergdahl wrote:

"The future is too good to waste on lies. 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."
posted by IvoShandor (28 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
I wonder why this is the first time I'm reading about this.
posted by Renoroc at 7:58 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do those propaganda videos help the Taliban more, or US operations in Afghanistan more?

This is a sad story for Bowe and his family. But great fodder for conspiracy theorists.
posted by b1tr0t at 8:03 PM on June 7, 2012


In the intercepted Taliban conversations:

"YES THEY DID. HE IS ALIVE. THERE IS NO WHERE HE CAN GO (LOL)"

Is that LOL, like, lol I enjoyed that dancing cat video LOL? Or is there another meaning?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:05 PM on June 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


First time I've heard about him too, very under reported.
posted by arcticseal at 8:07 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I haven't finished the whole article yet, but about half-way through, what stands out to me is the sense that this is a young man who has been very sheltered, naive even, and been given a sense of purpose and ability that is completely unrealistic. He and his dad fantasized about creating a covert ops group to take out warlords in Sudan, disguised as "U.N. people". His dad even says that he is "Baer Grills in his own mind". It's sad, but it's not surprising.
posted by KGMoney at 8:15 PM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


"To make matters worse, on an earlier trip to Sharana, 10 members of the platoon had been poached to pull guard duty at another base, leaving the unit even more undermanned than usual."

This is the archetypical sign of ineffective or absentee leadership. This is what I strive to protect my people from whenever we pass though. Someone should have noticed.

"If I were to leave the base, would it cause problems if I took my sensitive equipment?

Yes, his team leader responded – if you took your rifle and night-vision goggles, that would cause problems."

This screams leadership failure.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:22 PM on June 7, 2012 [8 favorites]


tl;dr: An American soldier is being held prisoner by the Taliban. The events surrounding his capture are murky. Obama is considering a prisoner-swap to free him, meanwhile Republicans are threatening to use the prisoner-swap against Obama in the upcoming election ("Obama let loose a bunch of terrorists in exchange for a deserter!")

It's disgusting.
posted by Avenger at 8:23 PM on June 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


Obama is considering a prisoner-swap to free him, meanwhile Republicans are threatening to use the prisoner-swap against Obama in the upcoming election ("Obama let loose a bunch of terrorists in exchange for a deserter!")

Surely we must have tons of non-terrorist prisoners. Could we swap some of them? I mean, we'd have to check with the manager, but we could probably do a pretty sweet deal on some of our not-actually-terrorist inventory.
posted by snofoam at 8:35 PM on June 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


When the Israelis say no one gets left behind, they mean it

There is a very big contrast between how they responded to this situation, and us. Americans have mostly never heard of Bowe Bergdahl, after 3 years of his captivity. I would be surprised if a lot of terrorists are ultimately freed on his account.
posted by knoyers at 9:10 PM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


"It could be a huge win if Obama could bring him home," says a senior administration official familiar with the negotiations. "Especially in an election year, if it's handled properly."

See this guy? The one who is having a bloodless conversation about the election, and handling this properly? He is really, really, really fucking bad at his job.

I hate those guys. He thinks his main concern is the most important thing happening here, and talks to the reporter with that firm belief. Narcissistic asshat.

Stop trying to impress the reporters with your meta-analysis, it makes you sound feckless and calculating. "Handling" this is resolving the issue effectively, not discussing the spin. Just handle it properly, then tell us how smart you are after it's handled. Idiots.
posted by dglynn at 9:16 PM on June 7, 2012 [10 favorites]


it kind of seems like this article will galvanize the hard-liners on both sides....and Howe will be less likely than ever to come home...

i really hope that he is cared for and fed by his captors between now and the November election when the political debate ends and market forces take over---even an embarrassing Jimmy Carter hostage release would be great.
posted by dongolier at 9:28 PM on June 7, 2012


er, Bowe ... less likely to come home.
posted by dongolier at 9:46 PM on June 7, 2012


I was on Sharana a year ago, and everybody there had heard of Bergdahl.

The story I heard was that he had made buddies on the FOB with some of the locals, that they had offered to either show him local life or get him out, or something, and then turned him over to the Taliban once he was off the base.

Crappy leadership is easy to find but I don't think anyone was tempted to follow in his footsteps.

The common reaction was "What a dumbass". I hope he gets home.
posted by atchafalaya at 12:44 AM on June 8, 2012


As an ex-soldier I'm with the man of twists and turns on this one. If the article is in any way accurate, this unit should never have shipped out. Hope the soldier in question gets home someday, though.
posted by Harald74 at 1:31 AM on June 8, 2012


BTW, the article first said he learned Pashto, and then was reportedly asking around for an English speaker when off-base. What gives? Was he not very successfull in learning the language?
posted by Harald74 at 1:34 AM on June 8, 2012


In the intercepted Taliban conversations:

"YES THEY DID. HE IS ALIVE. THERE IS NO WHERE HE CAN GO (LOL)"

Is that LOL, like, lol I enjoyed that dancing cat video LOL? Or is there another meaning?


Wondering if this is another David Cameron "Oh, I thought it meant 'Lots of love'?" situation.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:02 AM on June 8, 2012


Ralph Peters, an action-thriller writer who serves as a "strategic analyst" for Fox News, took to the air to condemn Bowe as an "apparent deserter." The Taliban, he declared, could save the United States on "legal bills" by executing him.

[...]

"They're the five biggest murderers in world history!" McCain fumed.

Kerry, who supported the transfer, thought that was going a bit far. "John," he said, "the five biggest murderers in the world?"

McCain was furious at the rebuke. "They killed Americans!" he responded. "I suppose Senator Kerry is OK with that?"

[...]

Opposition has also come from Sen. Saxby Chambliss, a Republican from Georgia who won election with a vicious smear campaign against former Sen. Max Cleland, a decorated Vietnam veteran who lost three limbs in the war. Chambliss, according to Bowe's father, has insisted that America shouldn't make a prisoner trade for a "deserter."



Somehow nauseating and barely surprising at the same time.
posted by spanishbombs at 4:31 AM on June 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Goddamn this is depressing:

According to sources in the briefing, the discussion sparked a sharp exchange between Senators John McCain and John Kerry, both of whom were decorated for their service in Vietnam. McCain, who endured almost six years of captivity as a prisoner of war, threw a fit at the prospect of releasing five Taliban detainees.

"They're the five biggest murderers in world history!" McCain fumed.

Kerry, who supported the transfer, thought that was going a bit far. "John," he said, "the five biggest murderers in the world?"

McCain was furious at the rebuke. "They killed Americans!" he responded. "I suppose Senator Kerry is OK with that?"

posted by numberstation at 5:52 AM on June 8, 2012


what stands out to me is the sense that this is a young man who has been very sheltered, naive even, and been given a sense of purpose and ability that is completely unrealistic. He and his dad fantasized about creating a covert ops group to take out warlords in Sudan, disguised as "U.N. people". His dad even says that he is "Baer Grills in his own mind".

I, too, noticed the strange family dynamic. Dad's OBEY YOUR CONSCIENCE! response to what would end up being his son's last e-mail? I found that very bizarre. I try to imagine what my parents would have said to me had I sent them an e-mail like the one Bowe had sent them, and it's hard to imagine how you could respond (he was so upset and so far away), but I don't think that would have been it.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:03 AM on June 8, 2012


That author sure does not like Republicans, and the article could have done with a little less axe grinding.

Ordinary soldiers, especially raw recruits facing combat for the first time, respond to the horror of war in all sorts of ways. Some take their own lives: After years of seemingly endless war and repeat deployments, active­duty soldiers in the U.S. Army are currently committing suicide at a record rate, 25 percent higher than the civilian population. Other soldiers lash out with unauthorized acts of violence:

It is also important to say that many ordinary soldiers, even raw recruits, return home and live normal lives, contributing to society, raising familes and becoming well respected members of their local community.
posted by lstanley at 6:43 AM on June 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


When the Israelis say no one gets left behind, they mean it

There is a very big contrast between how they responded to this situation, and us.


I'm having hard to figure out how to phrase this in an non-inflammatory manner, but I'm not sure what happened in summer 2006 was exactly optimal.
posted by hoyland at 6:50 AM on June 8, 2012


"YES THEY DID. HE IS ALIVE. THERE IS NO WHERE HE CAN GO (LOL)"

Is that LOL, like, lol I enjoyed that dancing cat video LOL? Or is there another meaning?


If it's an english translation/transcription of an intercepted verbal conversation between Talibani fighters, which is what the article seems to indicate, it might actually be the Laugh Out Loud acronym (i.e. it could simply be the transcriptionist's indication that the speaker laughed at that point in the conversation).

LOL is also the acronym for Limited Operational Life, which is normally applied to machinery not people (though I guess it could work as a kind of slang for saying someone has a short life span) but I don't think the Talibani fighters would have been using english technical jargon in an otherwise non-jargony conversation.
posted by amyms at 7:46 AM on June 8, 2012


I'm having hard to figure out how to phrase this in an non-inflammatory manner, but I'm not sure what happened in summer 2006 was exactly optimal.
posted by hoyland at 6:50 AM on June 8


I was referring to Gilad Shalit and their prisoner exchange last year. The Israeli population cared a great deal about Shalit through his years of captivity and Israel was undeniably willing to sacrifice a lot for one man. I don't think America supports each American soldier in the same way and I don't think our government is going to be making major concessions to get this guy back.

How are we more optimal than they are?
posted by knoyers at 8:16 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


...between now and the November election when the political debate ends and market forces take over...even an embarrassing Jimmy Carter hostage release would be great.

"Reagan won the election. On the day of his inauguration, in fact, 20 min after he concluded his inaugural address, the Islamic Republic of Iran announced the release of the hostages. The timing gave rise to an allegation that representatives of Reagan's presidential campaign had conspired with Iran to delay the release." Subsequent Iran-Contra criminal activity lends this some credence.

Apropos of nothing, Jimmy Carter once prevented a nuclear reactor from melting down using hand tools. That is all.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:41 AM on June 8, 2012 [5 favorites]


Yes it would be a terrible thing if some arrangement could be reached where one group of men/individual man could go home to their families
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 11:00 AM on June 8, 2012


I was referring to Gilad Shalit and their prisoner exchange last year.

I was referring to Israel's immediate response to Shalit's abduction. Given that they failed to retrieve Shalit (because they didn't find him) and a bunch of civilians died, suboptimal seems like a reasonable characterisation.

I don't think America supports each American soldier in the same way and I don't think our government is going to be making major concessions to get this guy back.

I suspect the fact that Shalit was a conscript probably has something to do with this. When something bad happens to an American soldier there's a lot of noise about the 'heroic choice' they made in joining the military. That rhetoric opens the door for an abdication of responsibility for the soldier. But when you're talking about a conscript, not only is the society clearly on the hook, it's easier to put yourself in the shoes of Shalit and his family because you have ties to conscripts.
posted by hoyland at 2:52 PM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was referring to Israel's immediate response to Shalit's abduction. Given that they failed to retrieve Shalit (because they didn't find him) and a bunch of civilians died, suboptimal seems like a reasonable characterisation.

Shalit wasn't the only reason. If the Israelis are being hit by rockets, they have the right to fight back.

There really has been no such thing as success in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I suspect the fact that Shalit was a conscript probably has something to do with this. When something bad happens to an American soldier there's a lot of noise about the 'heroic choice' they made in joining the military. That rhetoric opens the door for an abdication of responsibility for the soldier. But when you're talking about a conscript, not only is the society clearly on the hook, it's easier to put yourself in the shoes of Shalit and his family because you have ties to conscripts.
posted by hoyland at 2:52 PM on June 8 [+]


There is definitely something to this point, which is certainly part of the reason, but I don't think the notion that American soldiers deserve a greater share of blame from civilians for situations that they get into compared to a conscript is valid at all, since volunteer soldiers put themselves at risk on behalf of their society for its freedom and safety.

I don't think the Israelis were whispering very much about Shalit and his behavior or culpability; they just wanted him back and gave up a lot in pursuit of that goal

In Bergdahl's case, reactions seem very politically driven, unfortunately
posted by knoyers at 3:35 PM on June 8, 2012


Sigh. This is really sad. This kid was in a bad unit, and being a survivalist freethinker in a bad frame of mind, he made the seemingly logical decision to just walk out. Unfortunately, there were some dependencies there he hadn't considered, and now he's in hell.

The things he wrote about being in the Army remind me of things people I know have written about being in bad civilian jobs with poor leadership—across the board, bad gigs definitely have some similarities. But it's different when you're stateside...
posted by limeonaire at 6:17 PM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


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