Soldier’s Release Celebrated as Questions of Capture Remain

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl

HAILEY, Idaho (CNN) — No one here knew exactly where he was or what he was going through, but this tiny city in Idaho never forgot about Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

Yellow balloons and American flags line the sidewalks of Hailey, population 8,000. Residents planted one tree for each of the five years Bergdahl was held captive in Afghanistan.

Now, uncertainty has given way to elation as the Army sergeant has been released from his captors — in exchange for freeing five Taliban members held at Guantanamo Bay.

“There were times where we wondered, but (parents) Jani and Bob Bergdahl never once gave up faith that their son was coming home to them,” family friend Stefanie O’Neill said.

Bergdahl’s parents said the battle is far from over.

“The recovery and reintegration of Bowe Bergdahl is a work in progress,” Bob Bergdahl told reporters Sunday, one day after his son was freed.

“It isn’t over for us. In many ways, it’s just beginning for Jani and I, and our family. There’s a long process here.”

So what’s next for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and the Obama administration, which has come under criticism from some lawmakers for the secretive nature of the swap?

What’s Next for Bergdahl: Recovery in Germany

Bergdahl is recovering at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, a U.S. Defense official said Sunday. He is also expected to be debriefed at Landstuhl.

“He had lost … a good bit of weight,” National Security Adviser Susan Rice told CNN’s “State of the Union With Candy Crowley.”

Believing that his health was deteriorating, the U.S. acted quickly to save Bergdahl’s life. U.S. special operations forces recovered Bergdahl without incident Saturday at a pickup point in eastern Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan.

American officials said the government of Qatar brokered the deal.

“We were very concerned that time was not … something we could play with — that we needed to act when we had the opportunity,” Rice said.

There was no immediate word on Bergdahl’s condition after his release. A senior Defense official said Bergdahl is having trouble speaking English but the reasons for that were not clear, given the trauma he’s been through.

After Germany, Bergdahl will likely go to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. It’s unclear whether his parents will see him first in Germany or Texas, a Defense official said.

Transitioning to normal life

Bergdahl was believed to be held by operatives from the Haqqani network, which is affiliated with the Taliban and al Qaeda.

An Afghan Taliban commander not authorized to speak to the media confirmed to CNN that Bergdahl was captured by insurgents with links to the Haqqani network in Pakistan.

Over the years, the captive was transferred back and forth between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Taliban commander said.

David Rhode, a former New York Times journalist who was held captive by the Taliban for seven months, said Bergdahl faces a long road ahead.

“Psychologically, there will be a long debrief,” said Rhode, who was taken in Afghanistan and held in Pakistan until he managed to escape. “They’re actually going to want intelligence (about) who held him.”

But there’s a chance Bergdahl might not know much about Taliban commanders.

“I was kept with very young guards, most of the time, and I didn’t really meet very senior commanders that often,” Rhode said.

Facing criticism

One question that remains unanswered is how Bergdahl disappeared in the first place.

Several veterans and soldiers call him a deserter who walked off his base on June 30, 2009. At least six soldiers were killed in subsequent searches for him.

“Bowe Bergdahl deserted during a time of war and his fellow Americans lost their lives searching for him,” said former Sgt. Matt Vierkant, a member of Bergdahl’s platoon.

Vierkant said Bergdahl needs to not only acknowledge his actions publicly but face a military trial for desertion under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

When asked Sunday whether Bergdahl had left his post without permission or deserted, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel didn’t answer directly.

“Our first priority is assuring his well-being and his health and getting him reunited with his family,” Hagel said. “Other circumstances that may develop and questions, those will be dealt with later.”

A senior Defense official said Bergdahl will not likely face any punishment.

“Five years is enough,” he told CNN on condition of anonymity.

What’s Next for the Administration:¬†Defending the Swap

Some lawmakers are openly wondering whether Bergdahl’s release sets a dangerous precedent for future kidnappings of Americans.

“The methodology in what we used is very troublesome,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee.

“We have a changing footprint in Afghanistan, which would put our soldiers at risk for this notion that if I can get one, I can get five Taliban released.”

Rice defended the Obama administration’s efforts.

“If we got into a situation where we said, ‘Because of who has captured an American soldier on the battlefield we will leave that person behind,’ we would be in a whole new ear for the safety of our personnel and for the nature of our commitment to our men and women in uniform,” she said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“Because it was the Taliban that had him did not mean that we had any less of an obligation to bring him back.”

Briefing lawmakers

Some members of Congress are trying to understand why they didn’t know what was happening.

Rep. Buck McKeon, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said he still hasn’t been briefed by administration officials on the detainee swap.

The California Republican said he plans to hold hearings about the Bergdahl exchange, he told CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash on Sunday.

“We’re getting our information — other than a very brief notification — we’re getting most of our information now from the media,” he said in an exclusive interview on “Newsroom.”

McKeon said the Defense Department notified his staff on Saturday, after the exchange took place. But he pointed to a law that requires the administration to notify Congress 30 days before detainees are released from the facilities at Guantanamo Bay.

Rice said Sunday that the “acute urgency” of Bergdahl’s declining health justified the administration’s decision to execute the swap without telling Congress.

“It was determined that it was necessary and appropriate not to adhere to the 30-day notification requirement, because it would have potentially meant that the opportunity to get Sgt. Bergdahl would have been lost,” she said.

TM & © 2014 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

20 comments

  • Bill

    This man is a DESERTER!! How many soldiers died looking for this idot???
    I sent a message reply on the last article about this DESERTER and the station stiill hasn’t published it. AMERICA wake UP!!!! If you see this man as a hero, you’re out of touch with reality!!!! The liberals in Washington will say he has been punished enough over the last five years.HE made the choice to DESERT his men in combat. When he returns home let him kiss his Liberal parents and then send him up for a court Martial!!! He won’t last long in Leavenworth.
    We have a TRUE HERO sitting in a Mexican jail and this LIBERAL Adminisration hasn’t done athing to get him released!!!!!!
    Obama(I can’t call him president) will do anything to take attention off the other MAJOR problems(IRS,VA). How many more LAWS will this country allow this man to break before the action IMPEACHMENT happens?????
    Once upon a time AMERICANS had B—s and would stand up and be heard. As Earl Pitts says”WAKE UP AMERICA”!!!!!!! I hope this station doesn’t try to censor this email like they did my last one.

    • Bob

      All I can say is amen! I am a vet of both Afghanistan and Iraq and I cannot believe that the President just slapped us in the face like this, as if the VA scandal is not enough. I bet the poor marine in mexico does get tried for being AWOL. This guy walks away and gets captured, so what did he think would happen in a combat zone? Now hes back and sorry to say hero my +#%#. The real hero in this is the brave service members who lost their lives looking for this coward in the first place, but no one will offer them a book or movie deal like this joker will probably get. I could go on and on, but all I can say in closing is WTF!!

  • Claire Aiello

    Bill, we are not censoring your comments. Your posts went in to our spam filter for some reason. We check this 2 to 3 times a day to send comments through that got stuck there.

  • Jeanne

    The other story is that this man was snatched when he went to the latrine. So before we get in a lather over another political boondoggle I think we should give the guy a break, wait and see. Let’s face it, no matter what this administration does there are those who will find a way to start screaming. Even managed to find fault when Ben Laden was killed.

    • Branko Pezdi

      “The other story is that this man was snatched when he went to the latrine.”

      False! According to first-hand accounts from soldiers in his platoon, Bergdahl, while on guard duty, shed his weapons and walked off the observation post with nothing more than a compass, a knife, water, a digital camera, and a diary.At least six soldiers were killed in subsequent searches for Bergdahl, and many soldiers in his platoon said attacks seemed to increase against the United States in Paktika Province in the days and weeks following his disappearance. Furthermore, the soldiers in his platoon were forced to sign non-disclosure agreements forbidding them to discuss this deserter with anyone.

      Bergdahl has the blood of at least 6 brave Americans on his hands, the same as your heroes Barry and Hillary have with the 4 dead and abandoned Americans at Benghazi.

  • Kimberly Beal

    Bill…completely agree. Oh and you left out Benghazi as one of Obama’s boondoggles. Jeanne this guy was told NOT to leave the base and he did it anyway. There are also emails that at the very least voice this man’s distaste for this country and support for the afghani people.He is no hero. Sounds like other soldiers he served with are calling him a deserter as well.

  • Kimberly Beal

    If you want an informed opinion please google Colonel Allen West’s opinion on this matter. I tried to post the link several times but apparently I am being censored.

  • D C

    I hope they find out what exactly happened to him. I served in Afghanistan and I keep answering this question. “If he deserted, what was his exit plan?”. On his own in A’stan? If he did desert, he is lucky he got captured. I think there may be more to it. Anyway, debating the right or wrong of the exchange? All I know is that is that the 5 Talib will be back fighting very soon. And more American hostages will be taken.

  • Bill

    When are Americans going to wake up???? Dr. Ben Carson has said it best when he spoke about Americans need to get better educated on the political subject matter before pulling the voting levers. 90 percent disapproval rating for Congress…but we return 90 of the members back after elections?? Come on America…..get your head OUT of the sand and make you’re voices heard. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican/Democrate or Independent. LOOK at the qualification of the person..NOT there color , Gender or party !!!!
    We are NOW seeing more than ever what you get when GOOD people DON’t look at the qualification’s of candidates. The highest office in the land along with major Cabinet offices are a laughing point for the rest of the world.
    We once held the respect of ALL the nations friend and foe. What are we now?????????? WAKE UP AMERICA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! OUR CHILDREN’S FUTURE IS AT STAKE!!!!!!!!!!!

  • NRA

    Bottom Line: Obumma released 5 of His own for 1 american DESERTER! Obumma (Hussein) should be Impeached immediately and sentenced to Leavenworth Prison for the rest of his sorry life.

  • Wes

    To all you democrat supporters out there, if you don’t see now that obama is tearing this country apart, the countries demise will also be on you! Frome every lie, scandal coverup to the deaths of vets denied treatment, how can you look yourself in the mirror and vote democratic? Why can’t you see the obvious? This is no longer just politics, this is the survival of the American people. Get on board and get this idiot out of office! It’s time to impeach, the sooner the better regardless of which party you support.

  • vicki johnson

    all you people talk about i who done this or who done that ,i think youto shut theheck up you don.t no this man.s situation or wat he done so before you judge him or the president take the time to realize that this os spmebpdys son. all ya.ll want to do is talk bout the president you know if he hadnt of had somebody else mess toclean ulp we would not b in thiss mes we.re in now so go find somebody else to write abou an let this boy enjoy time with his family an ya.l can. you cab back the h**l ofg our president an kiss some body elses a%%

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