Let me say from the outset that I have the greatest sympathy for 23-year-old Bowe R. Bergdahl, the US soldier in Afghanistan who was captured and is being held by Taliban forces, and for his family, who must be going through a living hell worrying about what is going to happen to him.
But I’m willing to bet you that all of them are wishing, right now, that the US had not decided back in 2001 to begin a campaign of torture and murder against the Taliban fighters that it was capturing in Afghanistan, and against others that it has rounded up in the so-called War on Terror.
I sure know that if my son were ever so unfortunate as to be suckered into joining the US military and was then dispatched to fight and kill people in some far-off land where the US had no reason to be in the first place, and if he were to be captured, I would want to know that my own country had been living up to the letter of the law in respecting every clause of the Geneva Convention regarding the treatment of captives.
The sad truth, however, is that neither the Bush/Cheney administration, which simply tossed out the Geneva Conventions in 2001 and said its provisions, despite being signed into law by the US, did not apply to the war in Afghanistan, which was the first assault in what they conceived as a borderless and endless War on Terror, nor the Obama administration, which has refused to grant full Geneva Convention rights to the captives it holds in places like Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Base, or at Guantanamo Bay, or to prosecute those who tortured and ordered torture in the prior administration, has followed the law.
There are plenty of Americans, both in Congress, and among the US population at large, who have lustily approved of the torture of suspected fighters captured by American forces. All kinds of excuses have been trotted out for this willful violation of US and international law. The Taliban was not a legitimate government, they argue, so their fighters are not really soldiers. Al Qaeda is not a country, so its fighters are not really even enemy combatants, they say. Some go so far as to simply say, “These people are killers, so we America is justified in doing what it wants to them.” They’ll also trot out the excuse of expediency: we were attacked, and if it takes torture (or “enhanced interrogation techniques” to use a popular emphemism for such exquisite tortures as head banging or water-boarding), to find out what they’re planning, then that’s okay.” Vice President Dick Cheney, following the 9-11 attacks, referred to the US having to “turn to the dark side, “ almost unable to hide the gleam in his eye as he announced this.
But once we do that kind of thing, we have, it must be admitted, surrendered any moral authority to demand that our own soldiers, if captured, be treated humanely and in accordance with international law.
So poor Pvt. Bergdahl is now at the mercy of the same Taliban organization whose members have been tortured and killed at the hands of the US and its allies.
Thousands of Taliban were simply killed—either shot or left to die in closed shipping containers, by an Afghan warlord who was America’s key ally in the initial attack on the Taliban and Al Qaeda—an atrocity which was covered up for years by the Bush/Cheney administration, and which President Obama only recently ordered investigated. At Guantanamo, as many as 80 percent of the captives were innocent of terrorism, but were, and in many cases continue to be held because the government either doesn’t want to admit what it did to them, or because it has so abused them that if they weren’t enemies of America, they are now. Some of those captured and brought to the hell-hole of Guantanamo were children as young as 12—a blatant violation of international law. They even had their own camp there—Camp Iguana—just for captured children.
We have to hope that the Taliban will overlook the ongoing crime of America’s mistreatment of war prisoners—mistreatment that in many cases led to death at the hands of American interrogators and prison guards.
If they were smart, the Taliban would treat Pvt. Bergdahl in strict accordance with the requirements of the Geneva Conventions, and would ask the International Red Cross and Red Crescent to broker a prisoner-of-war trade of Pvt. Bergdahl for the prisoners being held at Bagram and Guantanamo.
Such a swap might put the US back on the road of civilized behavior, and might save Pvt. Bergdahl.
The one thing we all have to hope is that the Taliban treat him better than our own country has been treating its captives.
DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-area journalist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net