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Prisoners of War: the Malinois and the man

The Belgian Malinois captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan appears frightened and confused in the video.
The Belgian Malinois captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan appears frightened and confused in the video.
Anonymous

“A man’s soul can be judged by the way he treats his dog.” Charles Doran

Several years ago, a sweet, gentle-natured yellow Lab was working for the U.S. Military sniffing out bombs. He was a CWD, a Contract Working Dog, which meant that although he did the same job as the MWD’s – Military Working Dogs – he was owned by a man outside the military who leased working dogs. When the military saw that he was getting too old to continue his work, they ended the contract. But his owner wanted more out of him, so he leased him to an Afghan national.

While the Lab was in the custody of this Afghani, he was brutally mistreated. When the contract owner finally allowed him to retire, the dog was adopted by a big-hearted couple back in the United States. But when the dog arrived to his “furever” home, his new family was horrified by his scars. Most obvious were the matching scars on his ankles, scars that looked very much like the dog had been hobbled. That is how an American dog in Afghanistan was treated when he was being leased from an American contractor to do a job, when he was supposed to be properly cared for – when a contract was involved.

Dogs in Afghanistan are treated as though they are nothing better than oversized cockroaches. They roam the streets, usually no more than walking skeletons covered with mangy fur. Rocks are thrown at them and abuse, both physical and verbal, is a way of life. There have been reports of soldiers breaking up dog fighting rings as well as soldiers rescuing dogs and bringing them home. A Royal Marine Sergeant, Pen Farthing, broke up one such dog fighting ring in 2006, and from that experience he became the founder of Nowzad Dogs. In 2007, Nowzad Dogs became the only official shelter in Afghanistan, and is located outside Kabul. But Nowzad can only do so much, and the number of stray, suffering dogs continues to climb.

Interestingly, according to the Qur’an, all animals, including dogs, are supposed to be treated kindly. According to the Qur’an, dogs are believed to praise God, in their own language, of course. In fact, there is also a record of Muhammad saying “Whoever shoots at a living creature for sport is cursed.” There is also a notation by historian William Montgomery Watt regarding Muhammad’s kindness to dogs. Watt stated that while traveling with his army to Mecca in 630 CE, Muhammad came across a female dog and her puppies. Upon seeing them, he posted sentries to make sure the dog and her puppies were left alone. On another instance, Muhammad witnessed a prostitute giving a dog water and told her that her good deed was great enough to grant her God’s forgiveness.

However, as it seems to go in Islam, there are contradictions, such as records of negativity towards dogs. Dogs are seen as ritually unclean, filthy animals. But, in the same breath, Muslims are allowed to have dogs, as long as it is for protection, hunting, or other forms of work. Dogs are considered unclean by Muslim jurists, although Sunni Maliki jurists disagree. There are also fatawa – rulings – that state dogs are to be treated with kindness. But when it comes right down to it, it seems the Afghan people at large have adopted the stance that all dogs are ritually unclean and to be treated with contempt and cruelty. Yes, there is an occasional case of kindness – Nowzad has adopted out some dogs to Afghan families – but they are the exception rather than the rule.

And so, knowing how badly dogs are treated in Afghanistan, it is with great sadness that it is reported that Taliban members have possession of a British military dog. The Taliban released a video of the captured dog, a Belgian Malinois, to brag about what they see as their “spoils of war”. Bearded men crowd around the frightened dog, waving rifles and yelling “God is great”. The dog’s body language says it all – ears dropped flat to his head, eyes darting and wide. When his tail cautiously, slowly wags, it is not a sign of joy, but a sign he is hoping for some kindness and is probably also confused. He wears the military vest all bomb detection dogs do while they work, and his fear is palpable, even through the grainy video.

The release of the video created quite a furor, and apparently the Taliban thought it would help if they claimed the dog has a nice bed to sleep on and is being fed special kebabs and chicken. What are the odds that a dog – especially one stolen from the military – has been given a bed and is being fed food meant for human consumption? And if the dog is being treated so well, why is his body language screaming “save me”? The U.S. Military has firmly stated that he is not an American dog, but a British one, and that he is also the first dog to be taken captive in Afghanistan.

Locals in the Laghman province where the dog is being held say his captor is notorious Taliban commander who goes by the name Abu Zarqawi. The Taliban men say they may simply keep the dog, since he has been trained. But what is the most likely outcome? In the video, the dog is wearing his military vest, which effectively covers his back, chest and sides. The presence of the vest makes it difficult, if not impossible, to tell how much weight he has lost since his capture. He appears thin, but it is not possible to quantify. And the grainy quality of the video makes it impossible to see other injuries. If, for example, he was hobbled as the CWD Lab was by an Afghan national, the resulting wounds would not be easily visible in the video.

To many it seems tactically obvious that the military cannot carry out a rescue mission specifically for a dog. On the other hand, American dogs are treated with respect, covered with American flags when they are killed in action and given memorial services. The Taliban fighters that have this dog are known to have been involved in attacks on our military members. Perhaps, during the course of an assault on these known terrorists, the dog could just happen to be rescued. Of course, there is always the possibility that the dog is no longer alive. He was captured on December 23rd, and there is no way to tell when the video was taken. One thing seems sure, and that is that the Taliban may have underestimated the effect a captured military dog would have on the American people. The outrage is palpable as the video goes viral and people begin to demand the release or rescue of the frightened Malinois.

“Perspective is worth 80 IQ points.” Alan Kay

Now this is where our story takes a turn. Although this is a Dogs column, a point needs to be made. In June 2009, U.S. Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl disappeared from a military base in Afghanistan. The terrorists who have him are believed to be the Haqqani network. The Haqqani network is believed to be one of the, if not the, biggest threat to US forces in Afghanistan. They also operate in Pakistan, and sources say Sgt. Bergdahl is most likely being held in Pakistan, complicating matters immensely. Haqqani is also believed to have assisted in Al-Qaeda’s escape – with bin Laden – and also has ties with the Taliban. They are a large, dangerous group of terrorists hell bent on returning the region to sharia law. In January 2014, a video of Sgt. Bergdahl surfaced. In it, the frail-looking young man mentions the death of Nelson Mandela, which took place on December 5th, 2013.

The U.S. has been trying to obtain Sgt. Bergdahl’s release this entire time. This video is the first known proof of life in three years. The military has been trying to keep the video itself out of the media. Sgt. Bergdahl’s mother and father were understandably overjoyed to see proof that their son seems to be alive and gave the media a brief message in the hopes that he might somehow see it: “Bowe, if you see this, continue to remain strong through patience. Your endurance will carry you to the finish line. Breathe!” They also requested, yet again, that he be freed by his captors.

Sgt. Bergdahl is said to be the only American Prisoner of War (P.O.W.). Has his unexpected proof of life gone viral online? Is Facebook inundated with posts demanding his release? Does anyone even know his name? How many people know about the captured Malinois? It is sad, very sad, that the British military dog has been taken captive by men most likely to abuse and kill him. It breaks the hearts of animal lovers everywhere, and the dog’s handler is most likely absolutely devastated. It would be wonderful if the dog could be rescued. But what about Sgt. Bergdahl? It is a tragedy – no, it is an outright travesty – that a man being held since 2009 by known vicious terrorists is receiving less media attention than a captured dog. The American people need to wake up. Wake up and realize that yes, it is sad that there is an innocent dog’s life hanging in the balance, but it is horrifying and a travesty of epic proportions that a 27-year-old soldier’s life has been at risk for four and a half years with shockingly little notice from the American people.

To Sgt. Bergdahl: you are not forgotten. And to the American people, remember to keep things in perspective. The images of the obviously frightened dog would break anyone’s heart, and his rescue would be fantastic. But the images of a haggard, exhausted Sgt. Bergdahl should break the heart of every American – no, of every human, worldwide. And remember, in the words of Winston Churchill, “Never, never, never give up.” Come home. America is waiting for you.

Author’s note: Visit http://supportbowe.org/ to lend your support to Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and his family.

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