Robert Bergdahl is the father of Bowe Bergdahl, the American soldier who was released on Sunday after being captured by the Taliban five years ago in Afghanistan. During his son’s absence, Robert transformed his appearance while intensively studying the religion and culture of the region where his son was held captive. He’s recently drawn criticism for being in contact with alleged Taliban members via Twitter and email, and he’s under added scrutiny amid questions about his son’s loyalties.
Here’s what you need to know about Bowe Bergdahl’s dad.
1. Bob Bergdahl Grew a Beard & Learned Languages to Better Understand His Son’s Captors
In 2012, Bob explained his different appearance to Time, saying that he started growing the beard as soon as he heard about his son’s capture. He said he also began learning Pashto and Urdu, the two major languages in the regions of Afghanistan where his son was captured. When his new interests and look got attention from his neighbors, he explained to them that he was not developing sympathies for the Taliban, just trying to understand the way they live and think.
2. He Tweeted About Freeing All Guantanamo Prisoners
On May 28, Bob Bergdahl tweeted what you see above, saying “I am still working to free all Guantanamo prisoners. God will repay for the death of every Afghan child, ameen!” The tweet was directed at Abdulqahar Balkhi, a Twitter account representing an Afghan news website that reports on the death of American “puppets.”
Although Bergdahl has tweeted on behalf of prisoners around the world, including Americans held in North Korea, former Republican representative Allen West called the tweet a “smoking gun.” He writes, “Folks, this is either a very bad case of Stockholm Syndrome or something far more nefarious is at stake.”
Bergdahl has also tweeted against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to the Daily Mail, he became disillusioned with the United States when the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Olympics crushed his hopes of being an olympic cyclist.
3. He Met With Obama in the Rose Garden
Bob Bergdahl first raised eyebrows when he appeared in the White House’s Rose Garden with his wife and President Obama. There he sported his long beard, and spoke to the cameras in Arabic because, as you can hear above, his son is currently having trouble speaking English.
In Arabic, Bergdahl said, “In the name of God, the merciful, and compassionate,” a common phrase.
4. He Was Driving His UPS Route When He Learned About His Son’s Capture
Bergdahl has ridden the same UPS route for 28 years, but he told Time that work on July 1, 2009, was different. He received a call on the radio to return to headquarters where he found uniformed army officers waiting for him. In the gravel parking lot they informed him and his wife that his son had been captured.
5. The Army Is Looking Into Accusations That Bowe Deserted
Evidence from former members of Bergdahl’s platoon continues to raise questions as to what he was doing on the day leading up to his capture. One person told the LA Times they found all of his gear, including his rifle, helmet and body armor, stacked neatly on his bed the morning he went missing. Other soldiers remember his growing disillusionment with the war in Afghanistan and half-hearted comments about walking to India.
Army General Martin Dempsey said of the desertion question, “Like any American, he is innocent until proven guilty. Our Army’s leaders will not look away from misconduct if it occurred.”
If substantial evidence is found, Bergdahl could see a court martial and serve six months in prison if it is determined he’s been missing from duty for less than 30 days.