Since returning from Afghanistan, on his own time, Bowe has worked with an organization that rescues feral cats, and the lady who runs the rescue calls him the cat whisperer because, for some reason, these cats trust him. He has been able to successfully work with the cats so well that 23 have been placed for adoption.

Part of Bowe’s mental health condition is that he has trouble anticipating second and third-order consequences of his actions. In testimony given to illustrate this, we learned that the first time he went on a fishing trip, he had no idea that the fish would be killed.[1]

His care for animals has unfortunately become twisted into a trigger for PTSD flashbacks. During his almost five years of captivity, Bowe was constantly shown videos of beheadings. One of these videos showed the Taliban executing an Afghan man. It was in the early gray dawn. In the silence of the world, the man was permitted to say his final words. As the man slowly and haltingly made these final utterances, in the long pauses between the phrases, a rooster would break the silence with its crowing. Bowe testified that he had grown up among animals and had a favorite type of rooster. These associations heightened the emotional effect of that terrible video.

While awaiting his court-martial and in between the hearings, Bowe has been stationed at Joint Base San Antonio-Ft. Sam in Texas because it is the Army’s designated installation for specialty care and reintegration of prisoners of war. This post also happens to have an area of historical exhibit near Bowe’s work assignment for visitor education. It has live animals of the kinds that would have been associated with Army encampments in the past. One of these animals is a rooster that crows in the early gray mornings as Bowe comes into work. When he hears that rooster, his emotional connection to this animal and the memories of his youth have now been twisted into a powerful flashback trigger to the video of the man in despair and fear, uttering his last words, knowing that he is about to be gruesomely and mercilessly executed.

As the defense reminded the court in closing arguments, Bowe left his Afghanistan remote post, but he did not have malicious motivations for this act. Despite its nature and the fact that it was contrary to his training, he believed he was ultimately going to acheive something good.

Can we not meet the demands of justice as handed down in his court-martial sentence and also have the mercy of compassion for Bowe Bergdahl?

~ Kindra Bradley, Quaker House Executive Director

[1] Another example was a time he flew to France on a one-way ticket to try to join the French Foreign Legion, not understanding that he would need to be able to speak French (which he did not) or that he would, therefore, need a return ticket.