In his five years of captivity, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was never listed by the Pentagon as a prisoner of war.
Nor has the U.S. applied that term to any of its Taliban prisoners — including the five senior Taliban figures who were released last weekend from detention at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in exchange for Bergdahl’s freedom.
A look at how that process works:
— After disappearing in eastern Afghanistan in June 2009, Bergdahl was listed by the Pentagon on July 1, 2009, as “duty status whereabouts unknown.” Two days later his status was changed to “missing/captured,” and it did not change again prior to his release.
— The Pentagon defines “missing/captured” as a member of the armed forces who has been “seized as the result of action of an unfriendly military or paramilitary force in a foreign country.” Some would say that amounts to being a POW. For purposes of reporting and recording the status of service members, the Pentagon some years ago stopped using the term “prisoner of war,” although it awards a POW Medal for eligible service members and it has a Defense POW/Missing Persons Office.
— The POW issue for American troops in Afghanistan stands in contrast to past U.S. conflicts such as World War II or the Korean War because Afghanistan is not technically at war with the U.S. or any other state. The “enemy” forces in Afghanistan are mainly the Taliban, which are considered a “non-state armed group.”
— In a conventional war, prisoners held by either side are subject to rules of treatment under the third Geneva Convention of 1949. It defined POWs’ rights and established detailed rules for their protection and eventual release.