On June 30, 2009, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl abandoned his post in Afghanistan, escaping to a nearby village where he was captured by the Taliban and held for five years as a prisoner. Today the U.S. military charged Bergdahl with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. If convicted, he could serve life in prison.
We may never know why he decided to leave his base in the remote and volatile Paktika province in eastern Afghanistan and his platoon mates behind. But included in a statement released today by his attorney, Eugene R. Fidell, is Bergdahl’s personal account of the gruesome details of his captivity.
“In the beginning of my captivity, after my first to escape attempts, for about three months I was chained to a bed spread-eagle and blindfolded. The blindfold was only taken off a few times a day to allow me to eat and use the latrine.” the statement begins.
Bergdahl goes on to describe sores that developed after being chained and blindfolded for such a long period of time. “Around my ankles where the chains were, I developed open wounds that looked like the staph infection I had earlier that year. The infection also appeared on my forehead and side of head. It was also in the beginning of this that my body started a steady decline in constant internal sickness that would last through the final year.”
Read the soldier’s full account below:
In the beginning of my captivity, after my first two escape attempts, for about three months I was chained to a bed spread-eagle and blindfolded. The blindfold was only taken off a few times a day to allow me to eat and use the latrine. It was not [until] after seeing I could barely walk from my body going through muscle atrophy, that they unchained one of my hands from above my head and chained it down by side, allowing me to sit up in the bed. Because of the constant heat and sweat my body where it was in contact with the bed would become sore and raw, burning from the sweat and pressure. My eyelids from the continuous pressure of the blindfold would become raw and being unable to wipe the sweat out of my eyes and because the blindfold wouldn’t allow the sweat to dry, my eyes were always burning and arching. Around my ankles where the chains were, I developed open wounds that looked like the STAPH infection I had had earlier that year. The infection also appeared on my forehead and side of head. It was also in the beginning of this that my body started a steady decline in constant internal sickness that would last through the final year. In the first three months they fed me elbow noodles or rice and very little of anything else, as well as two bottles of water a day. But because of the growing internal sickness it become more and more of a problem to east. During these months some of the things they did was beat the bottoms of my feet and parts of my body with a copper cable. After the first three months they moved me. Though they never fully chained me to a bed again, the first year I spent in chains on both hands an feet, and more often than not, even in the locked in the room, they had my feet chained to a solid unmovable object either outside or inside the room. At this point, because of sickness, weather, and little food and water, hunger, and worse, dehydration my body continued a steady decline. In the beginning of the winter I was wearing summer clothing and even though later towards the end of winter I was given an army PT windbreaker and a hat, because of the cold and the conditions of the room, my body was never able to worm up, adding to my sickness. The lowest point coming in the winter of the end of the first year. My body weight having dropped to the point that my ribs and joints protruded clearly, my skin losing all signs of fat and my muscles, from atrophy, reducing to thin tight cords or bumps that did barely to support me or keep my joints in place. After the first year they put me inside a cage. In there my hands were always handcuffed in front of me, being taken off only on the few times I would wash and change clothes, which came more often than in the first year when I would go 3 or 4 months without washing or changing clothes. In the cage my feet were usually chained to the cage at night, thought they stopped doing this towards the middle of the second year, because of the acute pain my feet and legs were in, it was here that the most severe problems began with my feet and legs and, roughly, for the next year and a half I would feel acute burning “cobwebs” and have continuous bad swelling in my feet and legs. When this past it was replaced with the freezing numbness that continues to the present, as both feet have neuropathy. It was also during this time that I had between 8 and 12 open wounds on each wrist under the hand shackles. Not healing I would have to push the puss out of them daily. Then they moved the cage to another room over the top of plumbing that they had built into the first floor. After this, since they no longer had to take me out of the cage, they took all the chains off me. From this point for more or less the conditions remained somewhat the sane. Until going into the final two years, where things got better and my body was able to heal and gain some weight, the internal sickness lessened to a more manageable state. I was kept in constant isolation during the entire 5 years, with little to no understanding of time, through periods of constant darkness, periods of constant light, and periods of completely random flickering of light, and absolutely no understanding of anything that was happening beyond the door I was held behind. Told I would leave the next day, and the next day told I would be there for 30 years. Told I was going to die there. Told to kill myself. Told I would have my ears and nose cut off, as well as other parts of my body. I was told anything they could think of, weather it was through sing language, broken English, or fluent English. My first escape attempt was within the first few hours of being captured. The Taliban stopped in a village. Pulling me off the back of the motorcycle and put me on my knees and threw a blanket over my head (even though I was also blindfolded), a few moments later one of the guys that had captured me pulled the blanket off and took the blind fold off. I saw that he had come back with a younger guy and had squatted down, the older one in front and the younger one to my right. From my peripheral vision I could see a few other young guys standing behind them. At this point the older guy had pulled out his cell phone and the younger one began asking a question, and after evading his questions he would hit me in the face. This was repeated but I evaded answering his question and after a while they put the blindfold back on and threw the blanket over my head. Some moments after that I believed had a chance to run for it and did. I was brought down towards the edge of the village by a large group on men, on the ground I felt many blows from fists, and one from the butt stalk of an AK that broke it off the weapon. After that in all my efforts to escape I had made it twice in escaping the buildings where I was held. The first being in the first week of being captured, and because of the populated area and time that I had managed to do it, I had only managed to get a short distance before being spotted, and because of the terrain I had no place to hide and no terrain to use to evade. This escape lasted approximately 10-15 minutes and after recapturing me and putting chains back on they took turns beating me with a length of thick rubber hose. Afterwards they added more chain to my hands and feet and seeing what I had been able to do they increased the guards and moved ne to a more heavily secured compound where I would spend roughly the next three months. The second one where I had made it out of the buildings was around the end of the first years. Lasting close 9 days without food and only putrid water to drink, my body failed on top of a short mountain close to evening and some moments after I came to in the dying grey light of the evening, I was found by a large Taliban searching group. After recapturing me again a few hit me and one tried to rip my beard and hair out, but from what I could sense they were more worried about getting me out that area as quickly as they could. This is the time that my body reached the worst point of condition and for approximately the next year and a half I would not recover from it, but instead have to deal with specific problems getting more severe. During the five years I unsuccessfully tied to escape approximately 12 times.
Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban and held by members of the Haqqani network, an insurgent group tied to the Taliban that operates both in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
After five years in captivity, he was freed on May 31. The Obama administration’s decision to secure Bergdahl’s release by trading five Taliban detainees who were being held at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was met with praise and criticism.
The charges are the latest development in a long and bitter debate over Bergdahl’s case. They also underscore the military and political ramifications of his decision on June 30, 2009, to leave his post after expressing misgivings about the U.S. military’s role, as well as his own, in the Afghanistan war.
The case now goes to an Article 32 hearing to be held at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, where Bergdahl has been performing administrative duties as he awaits the conclusion of the case. That proceeding is similar to a grand jury. From there, it could be referred to a court-martial and go to trial.
A date for that hearing was not announced.
Read the full statement from Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, as released by his attorney Eugene R. Fidell. Bergdahl’s account of his captivity begins on page 16:
The Associated Press contributed to this report.