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Rolling Stone published on Thursday a story—"America's Last Prisoner of War"—about Bowe Bergdahl, a 26-year-old U.S. soldier from Idaho captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2009.
The 8,000-plus word piece—written by Michael Hastings, whose "Runaway General" profile in 2010 led to the dismissal of U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal—includes excerpts of the last email Bergdahl sent to his parents before he was captured.
In the email, dated June 27, 2009, Bergdahl wrote that he had become disillusioned by the war, and was "ashamed" to be an American:
"The future is too good to waste on lies," Bowe wrote. "And life is way too short to care for the damnation of others, as well as to spend it helping fools with their ideas that are wrong. I have seen their ideas and I am ashamed to even be american. The horror of the self-righteous arrogance that they thrive in. It is all revolting."
The e-mail went on to list a series of complaints: Three good sergeants, Bowe said, had been forced to move to another company, and "one of the biggest shit bags is being put in charge of the team." His battalion commander was a "conceited old fool." The military system itself was broken: "In the US army you are cut down for being honest... but if you are a conceited brown nosing shit bag you will be allowed to do what ever you want, and you will be handed your higher rank... The system is wrong. I am ashamed to be an american. And the title of US soldier is just the lie of fools." The soldiers he actually admired were planning on leaving: "The US army is the biggest joke the world has to laugh at. It is the army of liars, backstabbers, fools, and bullies. The few good SGTs are getting out as soon as they can, and they are telling us privates to do the same."
In the second-to-last paragraph of the e-mail, Bowe wrote about his broader disgust with America's approach to the war--an effort, on the ground, that seemed to represent the exact opposite of the kind of concerted campaign to win the "hearts and minds" of average Afghans envisioned by counterinsurgency strategists. "I am sorry for everything here," Bowe told his parents. "These people need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid, that they have no idea how to live." He then referred to what his parents believe may have been a formative, possibly traumatic event: seeing an Afghan child run over by an MRAP. "We don't even care when we hear each other talk about running their children down in the dirt streets with our armored trucks... We make fun of them in front of their faces, and laugh at them for not understanding we are insulting them."
Bowe concluded his e-mail with what, in another context, might read as a suicide note. "I am sorry for everything," he wrote. "The horror that is america is disgusting."
According to the magazine, the Pentagon has "scrambled to shut down any public discussion of Bowe," with members of his brigade "required to sign nondisclosure agreements as part of their paperwork to leave Afghanistan." Both the Pentagon and the White House, Hastings writes, "pressured major news outlets like the New York Times and the AP to steer clear of mentioning Bowe's name to avoid putting him at further risk."
The Pentagon says it's "doing everything possible" to rescue Bergdahl—including an offer to swap five Taliban prisoners for him.
Since his capture, Bergdahl has appeared in several propaganda videos released by the Taliban, the most recent in May 2011:
"Release me, please!" Bowe screams at the camera. "I'm begging you—bring me home!"