News Column

Bowe Bergdahl Tortured, Caged After Escape Attempt: Military Source

June 9, 2014

VOA News

Last updated on: June 8, 2014 2:55 PM

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.

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Original headline: Source: Bergdahl Says He Was Kept in Cage After Escape Attempt


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