Like Sergeant Bergdahl, reporter David Rohde knows about being a prisoner of the Taliban

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: Some who know what it's like to be held hostage by the Taliban is New York Times reporter David Rohde. He and two of his colleagues were kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan back in 2008. They were taken by the same group, in fact, that held Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, the Haqqani network. Just like Bergdahl, he was taken to Pakistan and held captive there. But Rohde says his was a different ordeal than Sergeant Bergdahl's.

David Rohde: Let me be honest, I feel foolish speaking. I was held for nearly 8 months. He spent roughly 10 times the amount of time in captivity than I did. What happened with me over time was there was this initial fear that they were going to kill us but then it became clear that they were holding us and keeping us because they thought we were valuable and wanted to trade us. It then shifts into this very stark realization that you're going to be here potentially for months and years. "Has the world forgotten you?" is something that must have gone through his mind.

Werman: As I recall, you had considered escape several times before you actually were able to. Are you spending that time constantly weighing the pros and cons of making a run for it?

Rohde: We were lied to by our captors - they kept saying there was a deal that was going to be imminent. It was maybe the 7th or 8th time that they lied to us that prompted us to finally try to escape. There was a report, and it's not confirmed, that Bowe Bergdahl did escape for a few hours but was recaptured. I survived because I had an Afghan journalist who was kidnapped with me and he led me to a Pakistani military base. I wish Bowe would have had a captive that could have helped him.

Werman: The fact that Sergeant Bergdahl was in captivity for five years - do you think at some point do you just start to accept the state of being a captive?

Rohde: You do. And I'm sure he learned how to speak fluent Pashto. Again, I had this Afghan journalist with me who spoke English. He'd been in complete isolation - PoWs in Vietnam had other American soldiers nearby, so it's unprecedented what he's gone through. There was journalists kidnapped in Lebanon in the '80's, Terry Anderson, has the record of nearly 7 years. But he sometimes had cellmates. So, I don't know how he did this; he's got tremendous strength.

Werman: Let's talk about the readjustment process, both short-term and long-term. Bergdahl is in Germany right now and his father told the New York Times today that his son is like a deep sea diver decompressing as he comes up for air. If he comes up too quickly, he says, it could kill him. What were those first days like for you?

Rohde: Again, it was a much shorter time for me but I was just elated. I had come to hate my captors and I wanted just to end this ordeal, including for my family. He'll struggle, I think there will be issues for months, if not years. But I want to be fair to Bowe and I think he will live a full life. I don't think he should be viewed as broken or that he'll never recover.

Werman: You obviously know about these emails that Sergeant Bergdahl sent to his family before his capture, emails saying he was feeling disillusioned with the army, sympathized with the Afghan people, caught in the crossfire. Some people are now calling him a deserter, a traitor. What do you think his reception is going to be like when he gets back to the US?

Rohde: I think it's important to be fair to him. His family, who I've talked to in the past, don't even know what happened, whether he walked off the base, was he tricked into walking off the base by some Afghans? It's really not clear yet. If he did desert, if he did make a mistake, I think that he paid a terrible price for 5 years and I think we should give him a chance to recover and then tell his story before people start condemning him.

Werman: There is still another American, a civilian in Taliban captivity, Warren Weinstein, who is a USAID contractor kidnapped by them in 2011. Do you think Bergdahl's release could foretell another American release? There seems to be some hope among the Taliban that if the swap for Bergdahl worked that they might be able to get Sheikh Abdul Rahman, the blind cleric connected to the '93 attack at the World Trade Center. What is your sense?

Rohde: This is what's so difficult about this situation; has this sort of set a new precedent? The problem goes beyond Warren Weinstein. In Pakistan, there's at least 2 journalists missing in Syria, James Foley and Austin Tice. There isn't a really unified response from the West about kidnapping. There's criticism of this deal for 5 Taliban. Israel released over 1,000 prisoners for 1 Israeli soldier several years ago. European countries pay ransoms and the US doesn't, so it's a complex situation. I think there needs to be a unified approach among Western countries.

Werman: Reporter David Rohde, thanks for your thoughts on this. We really appreciate it.

Rohde: Thank you.