Saturday, December 26, 2009

Family of Kidnapped U.S. Soldier Urges Taliban to Send Son Home

KABUL — In a Christmas Day move, the Taliban on Friday released a video of an American soldier captured in Afghanistan, showing him apparently healthy but spouting criticism about the U.S. military operation. In Idaho, Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl's family pleaded for his release and urged him to "stay strong."

Bergdahl disappeared June 30 while based in eastern Afghanistan and is the only known American serviceman in captivity. The Taliban claimed his capture in a video released in mid-July that showed the young Idaho soldier appearing downcast and frightened. He hadn't been heard from until Friday's video, in which he looks well and speaks clearly.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force confirmed hours later that the man in the video was Bergdahl, but denounced both its timing and content.

"This is a horrible act which exploits a young soldier, who was clearly compelled to read a prepared statement," said a statement from U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Gregory Smith, ISAF's spokesman. "To release this video on Christmas Day is an affront to the deeply concerned family and friends of Bowe Bergdahl, demonstrating contempt for religious traditions and the teachings of Islam."

Lt. Col. Tim Marsano of the Idaho National Guard issued a statement Friday from the family of Bergdahl, who live outside Hailey, Idaho. In their statement, the family urged the captors "to let our only son come home."

And to their son, the family said, "We love you and we believe in you. Stay strong."

Marsano met with the family Friday morning at their home. He told the AP that the family had not seen the video but had talked to other relatives who had seen it.

In the video, Bergdahl is shown seated, facing the camera, wearing sunglasses and what appears to be a U.S. military helmet and uniform. On one side of the image, it says: "An American soldier imprisoned by the Mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan." It also shows him eating while wearing garb characteristic of Afghanistan's Kandahar province, an area where the Taliban emerged in the 1990s.

He identifies himself as Bergdahl, born in Sun Valley, Idaho, and gives his rank, birth date, blood type, his unit and mother's maiden name before beginning a lengthy verbal attack on the U.S. conduct of the war in Afghanistan and its relations with Muslims.

In the video, Bergdahl says "It's our arrogance and, and our stupidity that has made us so blind that we simply refuse to see the blunders and mistakes that we continue to make over and over again. "

"This is just going to be the next Vietnam unless the American people stand up and stop all this nonsense," he said.

Although it is unclear where Bergdahl was being held when the video was recorded, he said he had not been abused by his captors and drew a sharp contrast with his own country's treatment of war prisoners.

In light of "the brutality and inhumane way my country has ravaged the lands and the people of my captures (sic), the Taliban, one would expect that they would justly treat me as my country's Army has treated their Muslim prisoners in Bagram, in Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and many other secret prisons hidden around the world," he said.

"But I bear witness. I was continuously treated as a human being with dignity," he said.

The video, which has an English-language narration in parts, also shows images of prisoners in U.S. custody being abused. The speaker says he did not suffer such ill treatment.

A statement read by a Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, appears at the end of the video and renews demands for a "limited number of prisoners" to be exchanged for Bergdahl. The statement says that more American troops could be captured.

The Geneva Conventions, which regulate the conduct of war between regular armies, bar the use of detainees for propaganda purposes and prohibit signatories from putting captured military personnel on display. As an insurgent organization, the Taliban are not party to the treaty.

Statements from captives are typically viewed as being made under duress.

Bergdahl, who was serving with a unit based in Fort Richardson, Alaska, was 23 when he vanished just five months after arriving in Afghanistan. He was serving at a base in Paktika province near the border with Pakistan in an area known to be a Taliban stronghold. On Friday, NATO said a joint Afghan-international force killed several militants in Paktika while searching for a commander of the Jalaluddin Haqqani militant network that is linked to al-Qaida.

U.S. military officials have searched for Bergdahl, but it is not publicly known whether he is even being held in Afghanistan or neighboring Pakistan.


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