Tuesday 29 December 2009

Bergdahl says he is "healthy, well and safe"

The video released by the Taliban on Christmas Day of captured US soldier Bowe Bergdahl does little to resolve the question of whether or not he is a traitor. Put out by Al-Emara Jihadi Studio, the Taliban's new media arm - until earlier this year they relied on the Pakistan-based As-Sahab media house - the video, entitled One of their People Testified, is mainly a propaganda argument about the treatment of prisoners. Much of its 37 minutes is taken up with details of the atrocities committed against moslem prisoners in Guantanamo and at Bagram in Afghanistan, together with footage from Abu Ghraib in Iraq.
All of this, of course, was free propaganda for the Islamists and starkly illustrates why mistreatment of prisoners is ultimately counter-productive.
This is the second video of Bergdahl, who was captured on 30 June in eastern Afghanistan and is probably being held by the Haqqani faction of the Taliban, based over the border in Pakistan's North Waziristan.
The video was produced by the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan's Commission of Cultural Affairs and contains a warning at the beginning that it should not be seen with a musical accompaniment.
Only after a long introduction about American treatment of prisoners do we see Bergdahl himself. In contrast to the first video, where he was shown wearing traditional Afghan clothes, in the new video he is wearing his battledress, a military helmet and sunglasses and it is difficult to tell whether or not he is reading a prepared statement.
He speaks in the first person and seems to be extemporising when he says, for example, that "the numbers and facts prove that we have surpassed Hitler in his horror". His speech is rambling, but he occasionally looks to one side as if he may be looking at some general notes. Clearly his captors do not want it to appear that he is reading from a prepared statement.
He tells his parents at one point that he is "so sorry that it took so long to do something with my life" and that "strangely enough, I am making a lot of headway here."
He adds that "I'm healthy, I'm well, I'm safe", although he admits he is chained. Still shots show him eating a banana. He says his captors are treating him according to their religion and that they are following their religion "more than I have seen anybody follow their religion".
He adds that he has a toothbrush, toothpaste, shaving equipment and that he is "getting meals as if I was a guest here". One possibility is that he is now studying Islam, although he does not feel confident enough to declare himself a moslem. Personally, I would not be surprised if he becomes a convert.
The video ends with a statement read by official Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, who says that the offer to exchange Bergdahl for a "limited number" of Taliban prisoners still stands.
If Bergdahl is ever recaptured/freed by the US Army, there will doubtless be a debate over whether or not he has betrayed his country. His family still believes he is simply a captured prisoner. Others may be less sympathetic.

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