June 3, 2014 -- Newly freed Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is not being asked about the circumstances of his “capture” by the Taliban, though a note he left at his base back in 2009 could help tell the story, a senior defense official told ABC News today.
The official, who spoke about the sensitive details of Bergdahl’s case on the condition of anonymity, said that Bergdahl is not being interrogated at the American military medical facility in Germany, to which he was brought this weekend after being released from five-year captivity by the Taliban. The official said there are legitimate concerns about Bergdahl’s physical and mental health, which have deteriorated over the years – so serious that doctors have cautioned officials and family not to reach out to even just say “welcome back” yet.
Though the medical facility said today that Bergdahl’s condition is listed as “stable,” it may be a long time, the official said, before Bergdahl can be questioned about his experience with the Taliban.
Since news of Bergdahl’s release spread in recent days, some in the military – including some in Bergdahl’s own unit – expressed anger at the price the U.S. had to pay to get him back, both in the five mid- to high-level Taliban figures exchanged for him and in the effort and lives lost in ultimately fruitless searches for Bergdahl shortly after his capture in 2009.
“He walked away. He walked right off the base,” Bergdahl’s old team leader, former Army Sgt. Evan Buetow, told ABC News Monday. “The fact of the matter is, he deserted us in the middle of Afghanistan to go and find the Taliban… People calling him a hero, people calling him this great soldier, it’s a spit in the face to the soldiers who were there… and more importantly it’s a spit in the face to the soldiers who died as a direct result of him leaving.”
The Pentagon has never stated that Bergdahl walked off his base, noting that any inquiries into what happened were missing Bergdahl’s side of the story. An official investigation, classified “secret,” was opened but it was never completed, a Pentagon spokesperson said today.
But the senior official who spoke to ABC News said a note that Bergdahl left at his post before he walked away could help tell the story.
The note, the official said, showed Bergdahl’s disillusionment with the U.S. mission in Afghanistan and indicated that Bergdahl believed he knew a better way. The official speculates that Bergdahl was idealistic in the extreme and may have gone out on his own to solve problems with which the U.S. military struggled for years.
After finding the note, military investigators “concluded rather quickly that he had deserted,” a former senior defense official said.
The current senior official said it’s unclear how Bergdahl got off base the night in June 2009 when he disappeared – he possibly hid in the trunk of a vehicle -- and it’s still unclear how he came in contact with the Taliban. The official said despite rumors that have previously circulated, Bergdahl did not marry while in captivity.
The military medical facility where Bergdahl is being held released a statement saying, “During this phase of reintegration, Sgt. Bergdahl is receiving more complete medical exams and will receive formal, structured briefings.”
“An inherent and critical part of the reintegration process is the decompression period that has been established to maximize returnee health and welfare,” the statement says.
A Pentagon spokesperson said it’s unclear how long Bergdahl will stay in Germany before returning stateside.
At an emotional press conference this weekend, Bergdahl’s parents said their son will have “a lot” to say about his experience.
“But that’s still a distant, future thing, and I won’t let things get in the way of Bowe’s recovery,” Bob Bergdahl, Bowe’s father, said.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the military would not “look away from misconduct” concerning how Bergdahl ended up in Taliban hands, but he still considers him “innocent until proven guilty.”
“In response to those of you interested in my personal judgments about the recovery of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the questions about this particular soldier’s conduct are separate from our effort to recover ANY U.S. service member in enemy captivity,” Dempsey wrote on his Facebook page today. “This was likely the last, best opportunity to free him. As for the circumstances of his capture, when he is able to provide them, we’ll learn the facts. Like any American, he is innocent until proven guilty.
“Our Army’s leaders will not look away from misconduct if it occurred. In the meantime, we will continue to care for him and his family,” he said.