PESHAWAR, Pakistan — In a new salvo in the propaganda war with the West, a previously unseen photograph of what appears to be Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl smiling alongside a senior Taliban commander was posted to a Twitter account associated with the Afghan Taliban.
A slew of tweets posted late Wednesday claimed that the former Taliban captive, who appeared thin and pale in the image, was treated well during his five years in captivity.
A Pentagon spokesman dismissed the photo as “100 percent propaganda.” It is not uncommon for captors to release such photos for that purpose, and Bergdahl may have been forced to pose for the camera. NBC News has not been able to determine exactly where and when the image was taken.
The commander with Bergdahl appears to be Badruddin Haqqani, the son of a former Afghan commander Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani and the former operational head of the most powerful Taliban faction. He was killed by a U.S. drone strike in August 2012 in Pakistan’s restive North Waziristan province while filling an explosives-laden pickup truck.
“Bowe #Bergdahl was really impressed when he saw the hospitality of #Taliban He first thought that he will be tortured But he was wrong,” one tweet says. Another explains that after a failed escape attempt “he was seriously expecting #WaterBoarding Electric Shocks & Other Tortures But No ...”
The Pentagon spokesman, Col. Steve Warren, could not confirm that the man in the photo was Haqqani. In an apparent attempt to play down any interpretation of the photo, Warren stressed that Bergdahl was held captive by “terrorists, thugs and killers” for five years, suggesting that Bergdahl had no control over his environment.
A Taliban official told NBC News the terror group did not own the Twitter account that posted the picture, but that it was run by a known sympathizer who worked at an Afghan university and had copied the photo from militants’ Facebook accounts. The picture is tagged with the words "Jundul Haqqani" - Haqqani group.
The account also repeats previous Taliban claims that Bergdahl had accused the United States of lying and that he was ashamed of being American.
Bergdahl disappeared from his post in eastern Afghanistan in June 2009 and was controversially exchanged for five Taliban commanders being held in Guantanamo Bay on May 31.
The military is conducting an investigation into the disappearance after members of Bergdahl’s own unit said he walked away from his post and should face desertion charges. If charged and convicted, he could be forced to forfeit $200,000 in pay accrued during his captivity.
More than five weeks after the U.S. swapped the Taliban prisoners, Bergdahl is in the final phase of his reintegration at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. On June 25, officials told NBC News that he had not been read his legal rights but anything he said during his medical “reintegration” process could be used against him in a court-martial.
First published July 10 2014, 7:15 AM