U.S. Army sergeant Bowe Bergdahl has opened up to media at an American medical facility in Germany, where the 28-year-old former Taliban prisoner has been recovering since his release last week. Bergdahl said he was locked up in a cage and severely beaten after he was discovered attempting to escape the Afghanistan compound where he was being held. Meanwhile, questions continue to mount about whether Bergdahl was a “deserter or Taliban sympathizer,” writes the NY Daily News on June 8.
The Idaho native was released on May 31 in a swap between U.S. and Afghani officials. In exchange for the Army sergeant, who was captured in 2009 and spent nearly five years under Taliban control, the United States agreed to release “five high-profile Taliban commanders who had been detained at Guantanamo Bay,” says the Daily News.
According to a report from The Associated Press, the former captive is in a “phase of reintegration,” and is not yet physically able to travel or emotionally ready to be reunited with his family. Officials said he has yet to speak to members of his family. Bergdahl disappeared from his infantry unit in June 2009 and was later captured by the Taliban.
On Friday, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told The Associated Press by telephone that Bergdahl was held under “good conditions.” But Bergdahl claims he was severely beaten by his captors, starved of rations and locked up in a small “shark cage” for weeks at a time.
“It would have been offensive and incomprehensible to consciously leave an American behind, no matter what,” Secretary of State John Kerry said.
Speaking of the five men released by the U.S., the AP report said: “Qatar, a tiny Gulf state, served as a go-between during the negotiations, and has ongoing role in ensuring the five released prisoners remain there for at least a year, under a memo of understanding with the U.S.” There, Kerry said that the Qataris and others are “keeping an on eye on them.”
Kerry stopped short however of saying that the former detainees would not go back and re-enter a terrorist fight against the United States. “I am not telling you that they don’t have some ability at some point to go back and get involved,” Kerry said. “But they also have an ability to get killed doing that, and I don’t think anybody should doubt the capacity of the United States of America to protect Americans. So these guys pick a fight with us in the future or now or at any time at enormous risk.”
According to the AP report, the deal, which Obama “pulled off without adhering to a law requiring 30 days’ notice before the release of Guantanamo detainees,” has now “ignited a political firestorm that shows no signs of abating.”
For the moment, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers who were supportive of Bergdahl’s release and the conditions of the swap have backed off, especially considering the renewed labeling of the sergeant as a deserter who walked away from his post.
Some of Bergdahl’s fellow soldiers maintain that Americans died during efforts to find and save him. Also, there is great concern that the high-level Taliban officials will resume activities with the Taliban and threaten members of the U.S. military in Afghanistan. – AP report
“We’ve made a serious, serious geopolitical mistake,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said today, adding that he’s “absolutely convinced” the five Taliban commanders released will take up arms again. “Maybe not all five, three for sure, likely four, and that fifth one is on the fence but will probably play some role,” Rogers said. “We’re going to pay for this decision for years.”
Kerry’s take on that? “I just think that’s a lot of baloney,” he said, adding that the U.S. is winding down its combat role in Afghanistan.
Says the AP:
On Wednesday, Bergdahl’s hometown of Hailey, Idaho, abruptly canceled plans for a welcome-home celebration, citing security concerns. And on Saturday the FBI said Bergdahl’s family had received threats that are being investigated by federal, state and local authorities.
The U.S. official told the AP that Bergdahl’s parents were being harassed and threatened, including death threats.
Bergdahl is said to be suffering from some skin lesions and has dental and gum disorders, but was otherwise released absent any significant signs of malnourishment or poor health.
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