Bowe Bergdahl’s torturer called him a dog, a donkey and an infidel as he sliced into the soldier’s chest with a razor blade. On each occasion, Bergdahl said, the man would make 60 or 70 slow, painful incisions. He said he stopped counting after the 600th cut.
Bergdahl’s description of his captivity was aired in the fourth installment of the “Serial” podcast, released Thursday, which focuses on Bergdahl’s captors — members of the Haqqani network. The family-run crime syndicate — “the Sopranos of the Afghan war,” as The New York Times once put it — was given millions of dollars by the U.S. in the 1980s to fight the Soviets and became the most militarily effective Taliban group.
The punishment was in revenge for the harsh treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody at places like Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Bergdahl said his captors told him.
“The waterboarding, the dogs, the isolation chambers, the food deprivation, the sleep deprivation... That was the list of things they always talked about,” Bergdahl said in conversations with movie producer Mark Boal that were recorded earlier.
David Rohde, now a reporter with Reuters, spent seven months held by the Haqqani network when he was a reporter for The New York Times, escaping just days before Bergdahl was captured at the end of June 2009.
Rohde, who was interviewed for the podcast, says he was able to understand far more about his situation than Bergdahl because his drivers could translate for him and because his treatment was far less harsh than Bergdahl’s.
Rhode said he was rarely blindfolded, never beaten and was not kept in a cage. He was moved frequently, he said, placed for a few weeks at a time with families.
The families would get tired of housing their captors, afraid that the drones always buzzing overhead would fire at their houses. Every day, Rohde said, people were executed as spies who had called in drone strikes.
Rohde and one of his drivers managed to escape and run to a Pakistani army base about a half-mile away on June 20, 2009.
Ten days later, Bergdahl decided to leave his eastern Afghanistan combat outpost — to report perceived leadership issues to a higher command, he has said. Captured within hours, he was beaten, starved, chained and kept in a cage until 2014, when the Obama administration traded five Taliban commanders being held at Guantanamo Bay to Qatar in exchange for his release.
“The only reason why I’m still here is simply because my body wouldn’t quit,” Bergdahl told Boal. He is now awaiting court-martial on charges of desertion and endangering troops who had to search for him.