SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

June 3, 2014

US concluded in 2010 that Bergdahl walked away

by KEN DILANIAN and DEB RIECHMANN
Associated Press

---- — WASHINGTON — A Pentagon investigation concluded in 2010 that Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl walked away from his unit, and after an initial flurry of searching, the military decided not to exert extraordinary efforts to rescue him, according to a former senior defense official who was involved in the matter.

Instead, the U.S. government pursued negotiations to get him back over the following five years of his captivity — a track that led to his release over the weekend.

Bergdahl was being checked and treated yesterday at a U.S. military hospital in Germany, as questions mounted at home over the swap that resulted in his freedom in exchange for the release of five detainees who were sent to Qatar from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo, Cuba.

Even in the first hours of Bergdahl’s handoff to U.S. special forces in eastern Afghanistan, it was clear this would not be an uncomplicated yellow-ribbon celebration. Five terrorist suspects also walked free, stirring a debate over whether the exchange would heighten the risk of other Americans being snatched as bargaining chips and whether the released detainees — several senior Taliban figures among them — would find their way back to the fight.

U.S. officials said Sunday that Bergdahl’s health and safety appeared in jeopardy, prompting rapid action. “Had we waited and lost him,” said national security adviser Susan Rice, “I don’t think anybody would have forgiven the United States government.” She said he had lost considerable weight and faced an “acute” situation. Yet, she also said he appeared to be “in good physical condition.”

One official, who spoke on grounds of anonymity because the person wasn’t authorized to discuss the subject by name, said there were concerns about Bergdahl’s mental, emotional and physical health.

Yesterday, a U.S. military hospital in Germany reported Bergdahl in “stable condition and receiving treatment for conditions requiring hospitalization” after arriving from Afghanistan. The Landstuhl Regional Medical Center said Bergdahl’s treatment “includes attention to dietary and nutrition needs after almost five years in captivity” but declined to release further details. It said there “is no predetermined amount of time involved in the reintegration process” for the 28-year-old soldier.

Two officials said yesterday that the Taliban may have been concerned about his health, as well, since the U.S. had sent the message that it would respond harshly if any harm befell him in captivity.

Republicans in the U.S. said the deal for Bergdahl’s release could set a troubling precedent. Arizona Sen. John McCain said of the Guantanamo detainees who were exchanged for him: “These are the hardest of the hard core.”