Captured Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl gets veterans’ support
Army Sgt. Bowe R. Bergdahl of Hailey, Idaho turned 27 years old on March 28. On that day, a small group of veterans stood outside the Philadelphia Fox 29 TV station with an “unhappy birthday cake,” hoping to make sure the public doesn’t forget he is still a Taliban prisoner — and hoping to keep pressure on the U.S. to work to bring him home.
Bergdahl was captured in the summer of 2009. Jack Stevenson, an Army veteran from Ridley, Pa., was among those demonstrating in March.
He stood alongside Patrick Hughes of Glen Mills, Pa. Hughes, a Vietnam Veteran and member of Rolling Thunder who is organizing a motorcycle run for June 28 to keep
Bergdahl’s name out there.
“I plan to continue to try and help get Bowe home. We need to get the message out there and get him home,” Stevenson said.
The U.S. government had been negotiating for Bergdahl’s release.
Reuters reported earlier this month that negotiators were seeking to arrange the transfer of five Taliban detainees held at Guantanamo Bay military prison to the Gulf state of Qatar, as one of a series of measures to open the door to political talks between the Taliban and the Karzai government that could lead to Bergdahl’s release.
The transfer proposal fell apart in March when the Taliban rejected U. S. conditions designed to ensure the transferred Taliban wouldn’t slip away and reappear as military leaders, Reuters reported. The veterans who demonstrated in March are urging that more be done to bring him home.
Jim “Moe” Moyer is co-chairman of Honor Release Return, a Florida-based organization with a goal of bringing back prisoners of war and those missing in action. He’s disappointed at the pace of the negotiations for Bergdahl’s release.
“All they want is five guys from Guantanamo for one and we can’t make the simple trade,” he said. “We know that they have been negotiating in 2011 and 2012. It is the president who can make the concessions for our country. One soldier for five. This is the fourth year and we still don’t have him home.”
Events to publicize Bergdahl’s capture and rallies are scheduled around the country to make others aware of his situation. On June 22, events are planned in Florida, Ohio, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Hailey, Idaho, Bergdahl’s hometown.
“Part of our mission is to make the public aware that Bowe is missing by having face-to-face engagements to educate the public and the political leaders,” Moyer said. “If you asked military personnel serving in Pakistan or Afghanistan, ninety five percent would not know that we have a prisoner of war.”
Bergdahl in the news
Bergdahl’s case has received news coverage in part because there are
conflicting stories about the way he was captured.
In a video released by the Haqqani network, a Taliban insurgent group, he said that he was captured when he fell behind on patrol. CNN reported that military sources said he was allegedly drunk and off base when he was ambushed, but the U.S. military denied that.
Rolling Stone published a story in June 2012 that said Bergdahl left the Army willingly and fell into the Taliban’s hands. Stars & Stripes, in writing about the Rolling Stone story, reported that Bergdahl “is not classified as a deserter and has been promoted twice while held in
At a Memorial Day ceremony last month, according to a U.S. Army news release, Brig. Gen. Christopher Hughes spoke at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan. His remarks included Bergdahl.
“A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers,” he said, quoting President John F. Kennedy. “We must also never forget the families of our missing comrades, like Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl and the Gold Star
bearers who have lost their soldiers to illness, injury and combat. It is their living example of resiliency that gives us faith and strength to carry on and honor our fallen comrades with renewed vigor and determination.”
Disagreement over Bergdahl’s status
The Department of Defense listed Bergdahl as Missing/Captured on July 3, 2009. Previously, he had been listed as Whereabouts Unknown. Moyer disagrees with the Missing/Captured classification. “(It) comes out of the fact that these are not considered wars because we are not fighting a country but terrorism and Al-Qaeda. We totally disagree. He is a prisoner of war,” Moyer said.
Moyer believes that if soldiers or civilians are classified as Missing/Captured and not as Prisoners of War, they will not be treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions and will not be given humanitarian treatment.
In 2005, a group called Rolling Thunder, whose mission is to publicize the POW/MIA issues, united with the National Alliance of POW/MIA Families to petition the U.S. government to use the designation “Prisoner of War/Missing in Action” — a designation
recognized by the Geneva Conventions — and not “Missing/Captured.” Since 2007, they have lobbied Congress to establish a Select Committee in the House of Representatives on unresolved POW/MIA Affairs.
Bending the president’s ear
Patrick Hughes believed the March demonstration outside the TV station would be a way to make people aware of Bergdahl’s situation.
But he is seeking answers, too.
On Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery, President Obama and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel greeted family members, friends and loved ones of fallen military members. Hughes posted a video of the event online. (Scroll to about the 4-minute mark).
As Obama shook hands with family members, Hughes introduced himself and asked about Bergdahl.
“We’re still working on it,” Obama said. “But you said it was a priority, sir,” Hughes said.
“It is. It is. We’re working it,” Obama said. “There’s nothing we think is more important.”
Later, as Hagel passed through the crowd, Hughes asked him if Bergdahl would be back before his term was over. Hagel said the administration was actively working on it. Hughes asked if Bergdahl was alive.
“We have every indication that he is,” Hagel said. “We’re going to do everything we can.”
John Wagner, Media Officer of the U.S. Central Command Center at MacDill Air Force Base, said in a phone conversation that the U.S. knows Bergdahl is being held by the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani Network and that “we are working with multiple government agencies to get Bergdahl back and find out where he is at this time.” Hughes has kept track of other POWs who haven’t made it home alive. There was Capt. Michael Scott Speicher, who was shot down in the first Gulf War.
Caroline and Keith Maupin of Batavia, Ohio came to Rolling Thunder to bring awareness that their son, Staff Sgt. Keith “Matt” Maupin, was a POW. The Armed Forces medical examiner confirmed on March 29, 2008 that human remains recovered in Iraq were Maupin’s, Hughes said. Hughes met the father of Spc. Byron Fouty of Lawrence, Mass. Fouty and Staff Sgt. Alex Jimenez of Waterford, Mich. were captured on May 12, 2007, according to the DoD. On July 10, 2008 the DoD announced that their remains had been discovered. They were buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
“So before I die, I want to see a live POW come home and greet him,” Hughes said. “And Bowe is still alive at this time.”
To learn more
For information about events around the country related to Bowe Bergdahl, check the Support Bowe website, the Rolling Thunder site, the Honor Release Return site and the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Person site.
About the U.S. Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office
The office says it “provides policy and oversight of efforts to account for and recover personnel, such as Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl who have become separated from their units during more recent actions.”
It lists three missing defense contractors from Operation Iraqi Freedom: Kirk Von Ackermann of San Mateo, Calif., who went missing on Oct. 9, 2003, while working in Forward Operating Base Pacesetter; Timothy E. Bell of Mobile, Ala., who went missing on April 9, 2004, while working in Baghdad; and Adnan al-Hilawi, who went missing on March 3, 2007, while working in Baghdad.