On reports suggesting that Bergdahl may have deserted his post, Obama said “Regardless of the circumstances, we still get an American soldier back if he’s held in captivity. Period. Full stop.”
…the president said, the U.S. doesn’t “condition” its “sacred” obligation to not “leave our men or women in uniform behind.”
And Obama said charges against Bergdahl was “not something we’re discussing at this point.”
“Our main priority is making sure the transition he’s making after five years of captivity is successful,” Obama said.
The president also defended the administration’s decision to ignore a law requiring Congress is notified 30 days before prisoners are transferred from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay. Five Taliban fighters were released to facilitate Bergdahl’s return to the U.S.
“We have consulted with Congress for quite some time that we might need to execute a prisoner exchange,” Obama said.
Obama said the U.S. was concerned about Bergdahl’s health and that opportunity to make the swap could pass.
“The process was truncated because we wanted to make sure we did not miss that window,” Obama said.
Read more here
American Forces Press Service reports that Bergdahl is being treated for nutritional needs at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where he arrived yesterday
“Sergeant Bergdahl is in stable condition and is receiving treatment for conditions that require hospitalization,” Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren told reporters.
“Part of that treatment process includes attention to dietary and nutritional needs after almost five years in captivity,” Warren said.
Following his treatment at Landstuhl, Bergdahl will be transported stateside to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio for continued care, Warren added.
The former prisoner of war is in a reintegration phase that “runs the complete spectrum of both physical and psychological [issues],” the colonel said, explaining that the phase comprises being returned to U.S. control, treatment at a regional medical facility and reintegration with his family and community. A key component of this reintegration is his family, Warren said, noting that Bergdahl has not yet spoken with family members.
The Defense Department also will determine through debriefings what conditions he lived in while he was in captivity, Warren said.
There have been several looks into the circumstances surrounding Bergdahl’s disappearance, Warren said, adding that DOD never confirmed that the sergeant was a deserter. A key component to the investigation is Bergdahl’s story, he said.
Whether Bergdahl will return to his Army unit isn’t under consideration at this time, the colonel said.
“It’s still too soon to determine that,” he added.
At a press briefing today, White House spokesman Jay Carney defended the decision to swap five Guantanamo Taliban militants for American POW Bergdahl.
According to The Hill:
… the state of Bergdahl’s health, that he had been held in captivity for five years and “the fact there were no guarantees the window would remain open” all played into the decision to make the prisoner swap, according to Carney.
Carney: the transfer should “not have come as a surprise” to members of Congress:
“We have been engaged in an effort for years, as we should have been, to recover Sgt. Bergdahl, a prisoner of war in Afghanistan,” Carney said. “And as part of those efforts, there have been ongoing discussions about how to bring that about. And that included conversations with members of Congress about at least the possibility of transferring these five detainees as part of getting Sgt. Bergdahl back to the United States and back with his family.”
On Republicans concerns that the president violated federal law, which requires the administration notify lawmakers a month before anyone is transferred from the Guantanamo prison, Carney said the White House had “repeatedly noted concerns” with the requirement, believing it infringed on the president’s constitutional powers as commander in chief.
Carney also dismissed “concerns that the deal would incentivize the capture of American soldiers in ongoing conflicts in the Middle East. And Carney said the decision to negotiate with the Taliban for the swap was in keeping with U.S. tradition to conduct prisoner exchanges following conflicts”:
“Prisoner exchanges in armed conflicts are hardly a new development, including in our history in the United States,” Carney said. “Whether it’s the Japanese or the North Koreans or others, we have engaged in prisoner exchanges in the past.”
On concerns that the freed Guantanamo detainees would pose a risk to the U.S:
“Without getting into specific assurances, I can tell you that they included a travel ban and information-sharing on the detainees between our governments, between the United States and Qatar…I can also tell you that the assurances were sufficient to allow the secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, in coordination with the national security team, to determine that the threat posed by the detainees to the United States would be sufficiently mitigated and that the transfer was in the U.S. national security interest.”
Carney “ sidestepped questions about reports Bergdahl may have deserted his post before he was captured in Afghanistan. Some troops have expressed anger over efforts to recover Bergdahl and the prisoner exchange”: “The Defense Department will obviously — has been and will continue to be the lead in terms of evaluating all of the circumstances surrounding his initial detention and his captivity…”
The Hill: “A spokesman for the Pentagon has said the Defense Department still does not fully understand the circumstances surrounding Bergdahl’s disappearance.”
Read more here
Update I :
Some additional information on Bergdahl from the American Forces Press Service:
Bergdahl, at the time a private first class, went missing from his post in Afghanistan on June 30, 2009. He was the only U.S. service member known to be held captive there.
The now 28-year-old soldier was thought captured by the Haqqani network. He appeared in a proof-of-life video that surfaced last January and military officials said at the time they believed the video to be recently made.
One of Hagel’s first acts upon taking office in February 2013 was to call the Bergdahl family about their son’s situation, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said during a January press conference.
In June 2011 the Army announced that it had promoted Bergdahl to the rank of sergeant. Bergdahl, now 27, is assigned to the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division at Fort Richardson, now Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, in Alaska.
That was Bergdahl’s second promotion since he was listed as Missing-Captured on June 30, 2009. He was promoted to the rank of specialist in June 2010.
“Sgt. Bergdahl’s return is a powerful reminder of the enduring, sacred commitment our nation makes to all those who serve in uniform,” Hagel said in a statement.
The U.S. government never forgot Sgt. Bergdahl, he added, and the Defense Department and other federal agencies never stopped working to bring him back.
“I am grateful to all the military and civilian professionals -¬ from DOD and our interagency partners -¬ who helped make this moment possible, and to all those Americans who stood vigil with the Bergdahl family,” the secretary said.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey also commented on Bergdahl’s return today. The chairman said in a written statement, “It is our ethos that we never leave a fallen comrade. Today we have back in our ranks the only remaining captured soldier from our conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Welcome home, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.”
For Secretary of Defense Hagel’s full statement, please scroll down
President Barack Obama announcing the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in an address from the Rose Garden at the White House, May 31, 2014, accompanied by the soldier’s parents. (DOD screen shot)
As reported by the New York Times and by our own Patrick Edaburn, the U.S swapped five Taliban prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay for the lone Afghanistan War American prisoner of war who has been held by the Taliban in Afghanistan for nearly five years.
In announcing the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the president said in a statement, among other:
Today the American people are pleased that we will be able to welcome home Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, held captive for nearly five years. On behalf of the American people, I was honored to call his parents to express our joy that they can expect his safe return, mindful of their courage and sacrifice throughout this ordeal. Today we also remember the many troops held captive and whom remain missing or unaccounted for in America’s past wars. Sergeant Bergdahl’s recovery is a reminder of America’s unwavering commitment to leave no man or woman in uniform behind on the battlefield. And as we find relief in Bowe’s recovery, our thoughts and prayers are with those other Americans whose release we continue to pursue.
For his assistance in helping to secure our soldier’s return, I extend my deepest appreciation to the Amir of Qatar. The Amir’s personal commitment to this effort is a testament to the partnership between our two countries. The United States is also grateful for the support of the Government of Afghanistan throughout our efforts to secure Sergeant Bergdahl’s release.
In a brief address today in the Rose Garden, standing alongside Bergdahl’s parents, the president said:
“The Qatari government has given us assurances it will put in place measures to protect our national security,” and “While Bowe was gone, he was never forgotten…His parents thought about him and prayed for him every single day… The United States of America does not ever leave our men and women in uniform behind.”
Secretary of State John Kerry also issued a statement, which reads in part:
The responsibility to make sure all of our men and women in uniform return from battle, especially those taken prisoner and held during war, is deeply personal to me as someone who has worn the uniform of my country – and as someone who was deeply involved in those efforts with respect to the unfinished business of the war in which I fought. Our nation has a sober and solemn duty to ensure that every single American who signs up to serve our country comes home. The cost of years of captivity to Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl and his family is immeasurable. Today, we are heartened that Sergeant Bergdahl will soon by reunited with his family and friends, from whom he has been apart for far too long.
As expected, Republicans are blasting the president for “negotiating” the release of the American POW.
Statement from Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel on the return of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl
A few hours ago, the family of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was informed by President Obama that their long wait for his return will soon be over. Sgt. Bergdahl is now under the care of the U.S. military after being handed over by his captors in Afghanistan. We will give him all the support he needs to help him recover from this ordeal, and we are grateful that he will soon be reunited with his family.
Also today, I informed Congress of the decision to transfer five detainees from Guantánamo Bay to Qatar. The United States has coordinated closely with Qatar to ensure that security measures are in place and the national security of the United States will not be compromised. I appreciate the efforts of the Emir of Qatar to put these measures in place, and I want to thank him for his instrumental role in facilitating the return of Sgt. Bergdahl.
Sgt. Bergdahl’s return is a powerful reminder of the enduring, sacred commitment our nation makes to all those who serve in uniform. The United States government never forgot Sgt. Bergdahl, nor did we stop working to bring him back. I am grateful to all the military and civilian professionals from DOD and our interagency partners who helped make this moment possible, and to all those Americans who stood vigil with the Bergdahl family.
The author is a retired U.S. Air Force officer and a writer.