To many of those soldiers, Sergeant Bergdahl was viewed as standoffish or eccentric, smoking a pipe instead of spitting tobacco, as so many soldiers do, and reading voraciously when others napped or watched videos. But he was not isolated from his platoon mates, some said. And while he was, like other soldiers in the platoon, often disappointed or confused by their mission in Paktika, some of his peers also said that Sergeant Bergdahl seemed enthusiastic about fighting, particularly after the platoon was ambushed several weeks before his disappearance.
“He’d complain about not being able to go on the offensive, and being attacked and not being able to return fire,” said Gerald Sutton, who knew Sergeant Bergdahl from spending time together on their tiny outpost, Observation Post Mest Malak, near the village of Yahya Khel, about 50 miles west of the Pakistani border. Mr. Sutton said he had struggled to square the popular portrayal of Sergeant Bergdahl as brooding and disenchanted with the soldier he knew. “He wanted to take the fight to the enemy and do the mission of the infantry,” he said, adding, “He was a good soldier, and whenever he was told to do something, he would do it.”
But Carpenter expects the right to stick to its story without regard for the evidence:
The Times adds that “Just how and why Sergeant Bergdahl disappeared remains a mystery to his fellow soldiers.” But it’s no mystery to the right. They have their story and they’ll stick to it–no matter how thumpingly it unravels–because not only does it mesh with their history of Obamian horrors, it must mesh.
Meanwhile, Tomasky knocks down the meaningless notion that “we don’t negotiate with terrorists”:
Every president since has said we don’t negotiate with terrorists. And every president has. And I would say prudently and reasonably so. When terrorists can give you information, for a certain price or because you have a shared enemy, take it. George W. Bush paid a ransom of $300,000 to a radical Islamist group in the Philippines that was holding two American missionaries, a married couple, captive. To get them to safety? I say, fine. Alas, however, the man was killed, even after we paid the money. So an American president ended up financing terrorist operations and overseeing a failed military mission. Imagine what Lindsey Graham would be saying today if Barack Obama had done that over the weekend.
It’s a mindless, right-wing electoral politics that make our politicians say “I won’t negotiate with terrorists.” It’s just like “I won’t let the Willie Hortons out of prison,” or, from an earlier time, “We won’t let the ChiComs take over Korea.”
David Rohde, who was kidnapped by the Taliban around the same time as Bergdahl and subsequently escaped, weighs in on our misguided approach to the issue:
Both sides in the furor over the Bergdahl case offer simplistic answers to the growing problem of abductions. Those who say the release of the five prisoners sets no precedent are downplaying the scope of this propaganda coup for the Taliban. Other militants around the globe will likely emulate them. At the same time, the argument that refusing to pay ransom or release prisoners will end all kidnappings is wishful thinking. Given the delusions of my captors, jihadists will remain convinced for years, if not decades, that secret ransoms are being paid.
The real solution would require a massive and difficult long-term effort to reduce the world’s pockets of ungoverned spaces. The Taliban who held Bergdahl and me felt no pressure to reduce their demands because they had a safe haven in the mountains of Pakistan.
And Dexter Filkins wonders about the extent of Pakistan’s involvement in the Bergdahl case:
So far, Pakistani officials have been silent about any role they played in either Bergdahl’s captivity or his release. But there are many questions that need to be answered. The Haqqani network, the group that was holding Bergdahl, maintains especially close ties to Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence, or I.S.I. (The Taliban official who told me about Bergdahl was a leader of the Haqqani group.) That a Taliban-aligned guerrilla unit would be so closely tied to the government of our ostensible ally—to which we give more than a billion dollars each year—has long raised troubling questions about American policy in the region. …
Given the close connections that the I.S.I. maintains with the network, it seems inconceivable that the organization wasn’t well aware of Bergdahl’s condition, status, and whereabouts. Did the I.S.I. try, over the years, to free him? We don’t know. Could Pakistani intelligence officials have done more to help him? Did they do nothing? Likewise, we don’t know. Were they involved, and perhaps even instrumental in, gaining his final release? We don’t know. But, given the amount of American money that flows into Pakistan, we’re entitled to ask.
(Photo: a reaction to the military’s difficulties in interviewing someone immediately after five years of sometimes brutal captivity and stress.)