Bowe Bergdahl's story: What have we learned so far?

Bowe Bergdahl is in a US military hospital in Germany for treatment and reintegration after five years as a prisoner of the Taliban. At this point in his story, there’s more speculation than facts.

Voice Of Jihad Website via AP video
Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, right, stands with a Taliban fighter in eastern Afghanistan before being handed over to US Special Forces.

At this point in the week-long narrative about Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, opinions far outweigh established facts.

Sgt. Bergdahl, captured in Afghanistan by the Taliban and held for five years, has said nothing publicly, nor have Defense Department officials, about the circumstances of his capture or his treatment as a POW moved between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Bergdahl, who is being debriefed and counseled at a US military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, as part of his reintegration, has yet to call his family, according to officials cited by the Associated Press. Why that’s the case is unclear.

After some days (or weeks) in Germany, he is expected to be flown to an Army medical center in San Antonio, Texas, for a reunion with his family.

"There is no predetermined time line for Sgt. Bergdahl's recovery process," the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center said in a statement. "The duration will continue to be based on the pace of his healing and reintegration process."

The investigation that is expected to examine the circumstances of Bergdahl’s disappearance in Afghanistan as well as his behavior during his years in the hands of the Taliban, has not yet begun.

Did he simply walk away from his post, as is widely assumed? Was he able to escape captivity for a time, putting up a terrific fight when recaptured, as has been reported.

Meanwhile, the debate over Bergdahl’s release in exchange for five Taliban officials held for years at the US detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is in full swing.

The five have been referred to as “terrorists” by critics of the exchange – a description rejected by most experts, including US military officials.

“Many columnists and congressmen make a big point that America doesn’t negotiate with terrorists,” writes military analyst Fred Kaplan at Slate. “Well, sometimes America does, but the key thing here is that the Taliban delegates, with whom U.S. officials have been negotiating in Qatar over the fate of Sgt. Bergdahl, are not terrorists. They represent a political faction and a military force in Afghanistan; they are combatants in a war that the United States is fighting.”

“The Israeli government (which can’t be considered soft on terror) trades prisoners with Hamas and Hezbollah all the time,” Kaplan writes. “In the most dramatic case, Gilad Shalit, an Army private abducted by Hamas, was traded for 1,027 Palestinian and Arab prisoners, 280 of whom had been serving life sentences for terrorist attacks against Israel.”

Conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks makes the same point in asserting that the Obama administration was correct in negotiating the prisoner swap.

“It doesn’t matter … that the United States government ended up dealing with terrorists,” Brooks writes. “In the first place, the Taliban is not a terrorist organization the way Al Qaeda is. America has always tried to reach a negotiated arrangement with the Taliban, and this agreement may be a piece of that. In the second place, this is the dirty world we live in. Sometimes national leaders are called upon to take the sins of the situation upon themselves for the good of the country, to deal with the hateful and compromise with the loathsome.”

But are the five ex-Guantanamo detainees (now in Qatar) “the hardest of the hard-core … the highest high-risk people,” as Sen. John McCain has termed them? looks at the evidence and concludes that “leaked internal documents from U.S. officials at Guantanamo generally back up McCain’s assessment.” (Those classified documents were made public by WikiLeaks.)

NBC News reports: “One of the five Taliban leaders freed from Guantanamo Bay in return for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's release has pledged to return to fight Americans in Afghanistan, according to a fellow militant and a relative.”

It’s hard to know how serious that pledge is. As Brooks said Friday evening on PBS, “They’ve been out of circulation for 12 years.”

Perhaps the most serious charge against Bergdahl is that as many as eight soldiers were killed as part of the effort to find him.

“But a review of casualty reports and contemporaneous military logs from the Afghanistan war shows that the facts surrounding the eight deaths are far murkier than definitive,” the New York Times reported this week.

Sometimes, old news remains better than what passes for current reporting and commentary.

In 2012, Rolling Stone published what remains the best profile of Bergdahl, based on interviews with the soldier’s parents (including access to family emails) and his fellow soldiers. This week, the magazine published “Four Myths About the Bowe Bergdahl Swap That Must Be Destroyed.”

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