Today, Friday September 21, 2012 is National POW/MIA Recognition Day. In 1979, Congress passed a resolution for a day of remembrance and recognition for all those who, because of their service to our nation, were Prisoners of War or Missing in Action, and in support of the families they left behind.
According to the Defense Prisoner of War Missing Personnel Office or DPMO, which as of December 1, 2011 has taken responsibility from U.S Central Command to account for missing U.S. personnel, there are more than 600 Department of Defense workers committed to finding and repatriating the remains of those who have been listed as either a Prisoner of War or Missing in Action. Their mission statement is to fulfill the promises our service members themselves swore to uphold, simply to “Leave no man behind”. The truth is that they will not uphold that promise or meet that expectation and don’t even intend to; instead, they will be satisfied with the lesser goal of merely identifying the final resting places of the more than 83,000 U.S. personnel who became missing while serving our nation.
The raw numbers are staggering, as are the number of years that have elapsed since the majority failed to be returned to their families. During WWII, over 400,000 Americans died with more than 73,000 still listed as ‘unaccounted for’. There are 7,500 unaccounted for from the Korean War, more than 1,600 missing from Viet Nam, 126 from the Cold War Era, 6 from Iraq and 1 from the war in Afghanistan. All of these people, Americans, service members and civilians share one thing in common; they are listed as presumed dead by the United States government. All except one.
That one is Sgt. Bowe R. Bergdahl of Ketchum, Idaho who is known to be alive and in the hands of the enemy.
Sgt. Bergdahl was captured on June 30, 2009 in Paktika province in Afghanistan. Since then, there have been either three or five proof of life videos, depending on which source you count, released by Al-Qaeda and Taliban groups, the most recent being a sighting in a video with Haqqani leader Mullah Sangeen Zadran. The Haqqani network is a Pakistani-based group affiliated with both Al-Qaeda and the Taliban under the Muslim aegis of “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”. The primary problem at this juncture is verifying both by whom and where Sgt. Bergdahl is being held. While it is believed he is in Pakistan, and demands for his release include the release of specific, named prisoners being held both at Guantanamo and Bagram, tracking down and authenticating who has the authority to make this kind of deal is at best problematic.
It is generally believed that Bergdahl was captured by one group inside Afghanistan and then quickly moved and ‘sold’ to another group across the border in Pakistan. It is also believed that he has been moved nearly constantly in the more than three years since he was taken prisoner. As it is understood, those who originally captured this American soldier believed he was valuable, both for ransom and as a bargaining chip, as well as for the propaganda value he could provide for whoever held him. Of course, the United States official policy is not to negotiate with terrorists or kidnappers, a policy quite carefully spelled out on DPMO’s website as “The policy of the United States, to never offer remuneration for the return of captured personnel, serves as a deterrent to hostage-takers and is one of the keys to protecting our service members” but which seems to be contradicted by reports of a possible deal being discussed as of January, 2012. In that deal, senior state department officials acknowledged preliminary negotiations to release five Gitmo prisoners, all senior Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders for one American. When no further details were released and seemingly no progress was being made, the parents of Sgt. Bergdahl released a statement in June of this year expressing their frustration with the lack of progress in either securing the release or affecting the rescue of their son.
At the same time, the recently released controversial book “No Easy Day” by former Navy SEAL Matt Bisonnette, written under the guerre de plume Mark Owen detailing the mission that killed Osama Bid Laden contains information on a mission he believes was a rescue attempt of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. In the book, the former SEAL states that they had missed the American POW by a matter of mere hours at most. Since the release of the book, officials have acknowledged that mission under condition of anonymity. Sgt. Bergdahl’s family has also admitted being made aware of the attempt, though whether they were informed at the time or subsequent to the planned publication of the book is not clear. This mission took place in 2010, and as far as is publicly known, it is the last time a rescue operation has been attempted.
I do not believe it is important or even appropriate most of the time for the American people to be privy to all the strategies, discussions and plans our government considers when addressing the war and terrorists. I agree that the stated policy of not offering remuneration for the return of personnel does not mean that we will not broker a deal with the enemy to secure the release of our people. However, I do not believe it is possible to deal in good faith with this enemy; that the only way to win the release of Sgt. Bergdahl is through military action, the bolder and bloodier for his captors the better. I believe that it will be in our national best interest to cause as much collateral damage as possible during this hypothetical rescue, thereby letting it be known that the cost for daring to take one of ours prisoner will be higher than they could have possibly imagined. I believe that the day after Bergdahl was confirmed to be a prisoner of war, the United States government’s message should have been a very simple communique along the lines of “release our personnel and we may let you live. Continuing to hold him, or even thinking about harming him will result in the total and complete destruction of your world”, or words to that effect. However, I’m not a military strategist, just an outraged American.
Truth be told, the lion’s share of my outrage is reserved for our media for not having this story at the top of the hour, every hour since he was captured. I cannot believe that had there been the glare of the national spotlight on this issue that Sgt. Bergdahl would more than three years later remain a prisoner of war. I’m having a hard time deciding whom I hold more responsible, a government who has historically abandoned prisoners of war all over the world or a media that has completely abdicated it’s duty to act as the Fourth Estate.
So today, as it is National POW/MIA Recognition Day, take a moment and become aware that there is an American prisoner of war, that his name is Bowe R. Bergdahl and that we need to bring him home.