Posted: Jun 06, 2014 11:18 AM MDT
Updated: Aug 24, 2016 10:11 PM MDT
Bergdahl disappeared from Combat Outpost Mest-Malak in Afghanistan's Paktika province near the Pakistan border in June 2009 and was later captured by the Taliban. President Barack Obama secured his release in a prisoner swap announced May 31, 2014. In the deal, Bergdahl was exchanged for five Guantanamo Bay detainees. He returned to the United States two weeks later.
Bergdahl was deployed to Afghanistan in May 2009. He was 23 and a private at the time of his capture, which happened after he finished a guard shift at a combat outpost on June 30, 2009, in Paktika province.
He was believed to be held by operatives from the Haqqani network, an insurgent force led by warlord Siraj Haqqani, who has a reputation for holding positions that are extreme even by Taliban standards. The network is affiliated with the Taliban and al Qaeda, and it was not always clear whether Haqqani operatives would abide by any agreement among the United States, Qatar and the Taliban.
U.S. special operations forces recovered Bergdahl without incident last summer at a pickup point in eastern Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan. American officials said the government of Qatar brokered the deal.
Some critics, including Sen. John McCain, a former prisoner of war, and Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee , have cheered Bergdahl's release but have serious concerns about the release of five Taliban members from Guantanamo in exchange. "This fundamental shift in U.S. policy signals to terrorists around the world a greater incentive to take U.S. hostages," said Rogers.
A senior administration official said Bergdahl's release wasn't a concession and was in line with Obama's goal of closing the Guantanamo facility. According to administration officials, Qatar, which brokered the deal, agreed to take custody of the detainees and provide assurances they would not pose a threat to the United States, including a one-year ban from travel out of Qatar.
There were also concerns the administration didn't follow a law that requires giving Congress 30 days' notice before releasing any detainees from the Guantanamo Bay military prison. National Security Adviser Susan Rice said Sunday the "acute urgency" of Bergdahl's failing health and a narrow opportunity to win his freedom justified making the move without notifying Congress.
Questions have surrounded the circumstances of Bergdahl's disappearance, and conflicting details have swirled. Published accounts have varied widely, from claims he walked off the post to another that he was grabbed from a latrine.
Instead, he said, Taliban fighters on motorcycles, armed with AK-47s, found him walking along a desert road and took him captive.
A reporter asked Hagel Sunday whether Bergdahl had left his post without permission or deserted -- and, if so, whether he would be punished. "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."
Bergdahl stands charged with one count of desertion with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty, aka Article 85, and one count of misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit or place, aka Article 99. A conviction could command life in prison.
Bergdahl, who is presently on administrative Army duty in San Antonio, said that once he left the outpost he realized he could face serious punishment and decided to emulate the fictional action hero, Jason Bourne, and collect intelligence on the Taliban so he could return to the U.S. military with something to show for his absence.
Those in charge of treating Bergdahl are working to build up his confidence in them, a senior Defense Department official said, noting that Bergdahl hasn't been able to trust anyone for five years. He'll eventually head to the United States for further treatment when he's ready, the hospital said.
A senior Defense official confirmed Bowe Bergdahl is having trouble speaking English but the reasons for that were not clear, given the trauma he's been through.