The U.S. soldier involved in the swap for five suspected Taliban terrorists is telling American military officials his captors at times tortured, beat and caged him during his nearly five years of captivity.
U.S. sources told news agencies Sunday that Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl said he was punished after twice trying to escape from captivity in Afghanistan.
Bergdahl, who was released on May 31 to American forces in exchange for five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay prison, is being treated at the U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany.
One U.S. military official told Reuters the 28-year-old is physically well enough to travel back to the United States for treatment. He is suffering from disorders affecting his skin and gums that could be expected after his five-year captivity, the official said, confirming a report in The New York Times
The newspaper reported on Sunday that Bergdahl told medical officials in Germany the Taliban kept him in a metal cage in the dark for weeks after he tried to escape.
Another U.S. official said some of the experiences Bergdahl was relating included “harsh treatment” by the Taliban, but that was not surprising. “These are not nice people,” the official told Reuters.
In addition to being kept in a cage in the dark, Bergdahl claimed he was tortured and beaten after he tried to escape on at least two occasions, a senior U.S. official was reported to have said, according to the AP.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity to the AP because he was not authorized to discuss what Bergdahl has revealed about the conditions of his captivity.
The official said it was difficult to verify the accounts Bergdahl has given since his release a week ago, the AP reported.
Taliban spokesmen could not be immediately reached for comment Sunday.
On Friday, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told the AP by telephone that Bergdahl was held under ``good conditions.'' The claim could not be independently verified.
Bergdahl struggling emotionally
Bergdahl, who was a private when he was captured, does not like being called a sergeant, the rank he was promoted to while in captivity, the military official told Reuters.
The soldier is struggling with emotional issues and has not contacted his parents although he is free to do so at any time, the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Bergdahl's release, initially cheered across the breadth of the U.S. political spectrum, has since proved controversial.
The exchange deal with the Taliban, which was brokered by Qatar, has provoked an angry backlash in Congress over the Obama administration's failure to notify lawmakers in advance that Taliban prisoners were leaving the Guantanamo prison camp.
The ex-prisoners were sent to Qatar where they will remain for at least a year under certain restrictions.
U.S. Representative Mike Rogers said on Sunday he thought at least three of the five former prisoners would return to the battlefield after they leave Qatar.
“I am absolutely convinced of that,” Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, said on ABC's “This Week”.
But U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made clear that they would do so at their own considerable risk.
“I'm not telling you they don't have some ability at some point to go back and get involved,” Kerry said in an interview with CNN's State of the Union
program. “But they also have the ability to get killed doing that.”
Kerry said the United States has proven its ability to target al-Qaida fighters in Pakistan and Afghanistan and said Qatari officials would closely monitor the released Taliban.
“They're not the only ones keeping an eye on them,” he said.
Details of capture
Stoking the controversy, some of Bergdahl's former comrades have charged he was captured by the Taliban in 2009 after deserting his post.
U.S. military leaders have said the circumstances of Bergdahl’s 2009 capture are unclear.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has urged critics to wait for all the facts to be known before rushing to judgment on Bergdahl.
The U.S. House Armed Services Committee planned to hold a hearing on the release of the five Taliban prisoners on Wednesday, with Hagel due to testify.
U.S. President Barack Obama told a news conference in Brussels last week that he made "absolutely no apologies" for the deal to secure Bergdahl's release. As U.S. military commander-in-chief he was "responsible for those kids" and ensuring no one was left behind, he said.
Kerry fiercely defended the exchange on CNN.
“It would have been offensive and incomprehensible to consciously leave an American behind. No matter what,” said Kerry, a Vietnam War veteran.
The New York Times
said the 5-foot-9 (1.72-metre) tall Bergdahl weighed 160 pounds (72 kg) and showed few signs of malnourishment or physical frailty.
U.S. officials have said in the past week that they needed to move quickly on the prisoner exchange because of concerns about Bergdahl's health as well as fears that leaks could cause the deal to collapse or prompt a Taliban member who disagreed with it to kill Bergdahl.
Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said he could not confirm the details of The New York Times
The New York Times
also said Bergdahl does not have access to media reports at the hospital where he is being treated.
Return to US
Military doctors at the Landstuhl hospital said that while Bergdahl is physically able to travel he's not yet emotionally prepared to be reunited with his family. He has not yet spoken to his family, The New York Times
and AP reported.
It's unclear when he may get to go home.
Typically, a returned captive would spend from five days to three weeks in the phase of reintegration in which Bergdahl now finds himself, according to a Pentagon psychologist who is an expert in dealing with military members who have been released from captivity said this past week.
The psychologist spoke to reporters last week on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the Pentagon, the AP reported.
Once Bergdahl is considered ready to move on to the next phase of his decompression, he is expected to be flown to an Army medical center in San Antonio, where it is believed he will be reunited with his family, the AP reported.
Officials have given no date yet for that transfer.
Bergdahl's parents, Bob and Jani Bergdahl, have received emailed death threats that authorities are investigating, an Idaho police chief said on Saturday.
The first threat was received on Wednesday, the same day Hailey, Idaho, canceled a planned rally celebrating Bergdahl's release, Hailey Police Chief Jeff Gunter said.
Hailey, a tourist community of 8,000 people in the mountains of central Idaho, was buffeted by hundreds of vitriolic phone calls and emails.
The five Taliban militants freed from Guantanamo Bay have pledged to honor an agreement between the Taliban and Qatar, which is hosting them, the French news agency AFP reported on Sunday.
Guantanamo Detainees Released for American Soldier:
- Khairullah Khairkhwa - Close associate of Osama bin Laden, interior minister and Herat governor during Taliban rule
- Abdul Haq Wasiq - Deputy chief of intelligence for the Taliban
- Mullah Mohammad Fazl - Senior Taliban army commander, accused of war crimes during Afghanistan's civil war
- Mohammad Nabi Omari - Significant Taliban official with ties to the Haqqani network and other terrorist groups
- Mullah Norullah Noori - Senior military commander and provincial governor during Taliban rule
The men, officials in the Taliban regime driven from power by the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, were released on May 31 and flown to Qatar in exchange for Bergdahl.
In a statement posted on their Pashto-language website last week, the men said they would remain faithful to an agreement with Qatar, which mediated their release.
"We want to reassure all sides that we are still holding to the agreement which was reached between the Islamic Emirate (the Taliban) and the government of Qatar on our release," they said, urging the release of fellow Taliban militants held in Guantanamo.
The freed prisoners are Khairullah Khairkhwa, Abdul Haq Wasiq, Mullah Mohammad Fazl, Mohammad Nabi Omari and Mullah Norullah Noori.
Little has been revealed about the deal, but Qatar has said it will impose a one-year travel ban on the men.
Some information for this report provided by Reuters, AP and AFP.