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Washington - US Soldier Freed From Captivity In Afghanistan In Exchange For Gitmo Prisoners; GOP Says Violates Law

Published on: May 31, 2014 09:57 PM
By: AP
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FILE - This file image provided by IntelCenter on Dec. 8, 2010, shows a frame grab from a video released by the Taliban containing footage of a man believed to be Bowe Bergdahl, left.  Saturday, May 31, 2014, U.S. officials say Bergdahl, the only American soldier held prisoner in Afghanistan has been freed and is in U.S. custody. The officials say his release was part of a negotiation that includes the release of five Afghan detainees held in the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (AP Photo/IntelCenter, File) FILE - This file image provided by IntelCenter on Dec. 8, 2010, shows a frame grab from a video released by the Taliban containing footage of a man believed to be Bowe Bergdahl, left.  Saturday, May 31, 2014, U.S. officials say Bergdahl, the only American soldier held prisoner in Afghanistan has been freed and is in U.S. custody. The officials say his release was part of a negotiation that includes the release of five Afghan detainees held in the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (AP Photo/IntelCenter, File)

Washington -vThe only American soldier held prisoner in Afghanistan has been freed by the Taliban in exchange for the release of five Afghan detainees from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Obama administration officials said Saturday.

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Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was handed over to U.S. special operations forces by the Taliban Saturday evening, local time, in an area of eastern Afghanistan, near the Pakistani border. Officials said the exchange was not violent and the 28-year-old Bergdahl was in good condition and able to walk.

“While Bowe was gone, he was never forgotten,” President Barack Obama said in a statement from the White House Rose Garden, where he was joined by Bergdahl’s parents. “The United States of America does not ever leave our men and women in uniform behind.”

Bergdahl’s handover followed indirect negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban, with the government of Qatar serving as the go-between. Qatar is taking custody of the five Afghan detainees who were held at Guantanamo.

Several dozen U.S. special operations forces, backed by multiple helicopters and surveillance aircraft, flew into Afghanistan by helicopter and made the transfer with the approximately 18 Taliban members. Officials said the commandos were on the ground for a short time before lifting off with Bergdahl.

According to a senior defense official, once Bergdahl climbed onto the noisy helicopter, he took a pen and wrote on a paper plate, “SF?” — asking the troops if they were special operations forces.

They shouted back at him over the roar of the rotors: “Yes, we’ve been looking for you for a long time.”

Then, according to the official, Bergdahl broke down.

Bergdahl, of Hailey, Idaho, is believed to have been held by the Haqqani network since June 30, 2009. Haqqani operates in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region and has been one of the deadliest threats to U.S. troops in the war.

President Barack Obama speaks with Jani Bergdahl, left, and Bob Bergdahl, right, the parents of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Saturday, May 31, 2014, after the announcement that Bowe Bergdahl has been released from captivity. Bergdahl, 28, had been held prisoner by the Taliban since June 30, 2009. He was handed over to U.S. special forces by the Taliban in exchange for the release of five Afghan detainees held by the United States. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)President Barack Obama speaks with Jani Bergdahl, left, and Bob Bergdahl, right, the parents of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Saturday, May 31, 2014, after the announcement that Bowe Bergdahl has been released from captivity. Bergdahl, 28, had been held prisoner by the Taliban since June 30, 2009. He was handed over to U.S. special forces by the Taliban in exchange for the release of five Afghan detainees held by the United States. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The network, which the State Department designated as a foreign terrorist organization in 2012, claims allegiance to the Afghan Taliban, yet operates with some degree of autonomy.

Officials said Bergdahl was initially taken to Bagram Air Field, the main U.S. base in Afghanistan, for medical evaluations, and was being transferred to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, a military facility in Germany, for additional care before he returns to the United States.

The official said Bergdhal was tentatively scheduled to go to the San Antonio Military Medical Center where he would be reunited with his family. The military was working Saturday to connect Bergdahl with his family over the telephone or by video conference.

The U.S. believes Bergdahl was held for the bulk of his captivity time in Pakistan, but officials said it was not clear when he was transported to eastern Afghanistan.

All of the officials insisted on anonymity in order to discuss details of Bergdahl’s transfer.

Bergdahl’s parents, Bob and Jani, had been in Washington on a previously scheduled visit when they received a call Saturday from Obama informing them that their son had been freed.

As they stood with Obama in the Rose Garden hours after their son’s release, Bob Bergdahl, who grew a long, thick beard to honor his son, said Bowe Bergdahl was having trouble speaking English after his rescue. The elder Bergdahl had worked to learn Pashto, the language spoken by his son’s captors, and delivered him a message in that language.

Switching back to English, he said “the complicated nature of this recovery will never really be comprehended.”

The circumstances surrounding Bergdahl’s capture remain something of a mystery. There has been some speculation that he willingly walked away from his unit, raising the question of whether he could be charged with being absent without leave (AWOL) or desertion.

In 2012, Rolling Stone magazine quoted emails Bergdahl is said to have sent to his parents that suggest he was disillusioned with America’s mission in Afghanistan, had lost faith in the U.S. Army’s mission there and was considering desertion. Bergdahl told his parents he was “ashamed to even be American.”

The Associated Press could not independently authenticate the emails.

Were Bergdahl to be charged with desertion, the maximum penalty he would face is five years in prison and a dishonorable discharge, if it’s proven that he deserted with the intent to avoid hazardous duty or to shirk important service. A case of AWOL, ended by the U.S. apprehending him, would not require proof that he intended to remain away permanently. The maximum punishment for that would be a dishonorable discharge and 18 months’ confinement, according to military justice experts.

The U.S. has long been seeking Bergdahl’s release, but there was renewed interest in his release as Obama finalized plans to pull nearly all American forces out of Afghanistan by the end of 2016.

Officials said the Taliban signaled to the U.S. in November that they were ready to start new talks on the issue of detainees. After the U.S. received proof that Bergdahl was still alive, indirect talks began, with Qatar sending messages back and forth between the two parties.

The talks intensified about a week ago, officials said, resulting in Bergdahl’s release and the transfer of the Afghan detainees.

The five Guantanamo detainees departed the base on a U.S. military aircraft Saturday afternoon. Under the conditions of their release, the detainees will be banned from traveling outside of Qatar for at least one year.

Obama and the emir of Qatar spoke last week about the conditions of the release, which have been codified in a memorandum of understanding between the two countries, officials said.

The administration is legally required to notify Congress in advance about plans to release Guantanamo detainees. An administration official said lawmakers were notified only after U.S. officials knew they had Bergdahl, but before the transfers took place.

Two Republican lawmakers said Obama violated U.S. laws when he approved the exchange. Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon of California and Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma said the law required Obama to notify Congress 30 days before any transfer of terrorists from the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In response, the White House said that officials considered what they called “unique and exigent circumstances” and decided to go ahead with the transfer in spite of the legal requirement.

The detainees are among the most senior Afghans still held at the prison. They are:

—Abdul Haq Wasiq, who served as the Taliban deputy minister of intelligence

—Mullah Norullah Nori, a senior Taliban commander in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif when the Taliban fought U.S. forces in late 2001

—Khairullah Khairkhwa, who served in various Taliban positions including interior minister and had direct ties to Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden

—Mohammed Nabi, who served as chief of security for the Taliban in Qalat, Afghanistan, and later worked as a radio operator for the Taliban’s communications office in Kabul

—Mohammad Fazl, whom Human Rights Watch says could be prosecuted for war crimes for presiding over the mass killing of Shiite Muslims in Afghanistan in 2000 and 2001 as the Taliban sought to consolidate their control over the country.

Taliban and Afghan officials could not be reached for comment. In Pakistan, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said her government was “not aware of” Bergdahl’s release or the negotiations leading up to it. She declined to comment further.



More of today's headlines

Vero Beach, FL -The American man who launched a suicide bombing against Syrian government troops grew up in Central Florida and attended several colleges in the state... Afghanistan - The only American soldier held prisoner in Afghanistan has been freed by the Taliban in exchange for the release of five Afghan detainees from the U.S...

 

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Read Comments (13)  —  Post Yours »

1

 May 31, 2014 at 10:27 PM ComeOn Says:

Impeach Obama.

2

 May 31, 2014 at 10:32 PM Obama Says:

No American law will stop me from freeing terrorists.

3

 Jun 01, 2014 at 12:10 AM hashomer Says:

The GOP shleps the black POW-MIA flag all over, and now they criticize Obama for getting this prisoner back? Hypocrites!

4

 Jun 01, 2014 at 08:47 AM ComeOn Says:

Reply to #3  
hashomer Says:

The GOP shleps the black POW-MIA flag all over, and now they criticize Obama for getting this prisoner back? Hypocrites!

This is a nation of laws. If one man can make decisions unilaterally, even though its a good one this time, how will you prevent his bad decisions in the future?

5

 Jun 01, 2014 at 09:00 AM Mayer Says:

When the former Israeli President Katsav and the former Israeli Prime Minister Olmert were prosecuted for breaking the law, the Americans were keen to laud the Israeli notion that no man, however high an office holder, is immune from the law. Here the White House acknowledges illegal behaviour but excuses itself on the grounds of “unique and exigent circumstances”. Next time a poor person steals because he feels he is dying of hunger, let's see if that defence holds water. Impeach Obama.

6

 Jun 01, 2014 at 10:22 AM Obama Says:

Reply to #3  
hashomer Says:

The GOP shleps the black POW-MIA flag all over, and now they criticize Obama for getting this prisoner back? Hypocrites!

Don't you get it..I can do whatever I want..I am KING HUSSEIN OBAMA! ..And with subjects like you, I will always be King. - No US law can stop me from freeing terrorists.

7

 Jun 01, 2014 at 10:34 AM Sheker Says:

Reply to #3  
hashomer Says:

The GOP shleps the black POW-MIA flag all over, and now they criticize Obama for getting this prisoner back? Hypocrites!

Obama's excuse for breaking the law and not getting permission for freeing terrorists was Bergdahl's life-threatening health..... yet we read that, "Officials said the exchange was not violent and the 28-year-old Bergdahl was in good condition and able to walk." - Doesn't sound like an emergency.

Obama says today, The United States of America does not ever leave our men and women in uniform behind.” - Did someone say "Benghazi"?

With no advance notice .... "Several dozen U.S. special operations forces, backed by multiple helicopters and surveillance aircraft, flew into Afghanistan by helicopter and made the transfer...". Hmmmm, that would have been a nice group to go into "Benghazi".

Obama was right ... We need "hope and change"!

8

 Jun 01, 2014 at 10:36 AM Clueless Says:

Reply to #3  
hashomer Says:

The GOP shleps the black POW-MIA flag all over, and now they criticize Obama for getting this prisoner back? Hypocrites!

Is it possible, in your world, for Obama to be wrong, without schlepping in the GOP? (Even in your world, can't they both be bad? Why must Obama always be right? FOOL!)

9

 Jun 01, 2014 at 12:43 PM aaron Says:

Reply to #5  
Mayer Says:

When the former Israeli President Katsav and the former Israeli Prime Minister Olmert were prosecuted for breaking the law, the Americans were keen to laud the Israeli notion that no man, however high an office holder, is immune from the law. Here the White House acknowledges illegal behaviour but excuses itself on the grounds of “unique and exigent circumstances”. Next time a poor person steals because he feels he is dying of hunger, let's see if that defence holds water. Impeach Obama.

personally, I think that if a person is literally starving to death, thats a pretty good reason to steal and I like that defense- the Torah agrees! :)

10

 Jun 01, 2014 at 03:10 PM hashomer Says:

Reply to #8  
Clueless Says:

Is it possible, in your world, for Obama to be wrong, without schlepping in the GOP? (Even in your world, can't they both be bad? Why must Obama always be right? FOOL!)

The article headline references the GOP, I didn't shlep them in. You'd want the POW to languish in an Afghan hole somewhere? Even Israel, which "doesnt negotiate w terrorists" traded for Shalit and scores of others. I'm sure you could explain to the family why adherence to "law" is more important than redeeming a prisoner. You'd be OK if your son was the captive I'm sure.

11

 Jun 01, 2014 at 03:55 PM Clueless Says:

Reply to #10  
hashomer Says:

The article headline references the GOP, I didn't shlep them in. You'd want the POW to languish in an Afghan hole somewhere? Even Israel, which "doesnt negotiate w terrorists" traded for Shalit and scores of others. I'm sure you could explain to the family why adherence to "law" is more important than redeeming a prisoner. You'd be OK if your son was the captive I'm sure.

"I'm sure you could explain to the family why adherence to "law" is more important than redeeming a prisoner"- Ummm, I think you could figure out WHY there is such a law... because certain Presidents (such as King Obama) might ignore the obvious consequence of trading terrorists for prisoners... Didn't a famous prisoner named Gilad Shalit, who is really sick from being in prison much more than 5 years, say NOT to free him if it means freeing terrorist? If he can say it, you can too! Look in the mirror and practice...

12

 Jun 01, 2014 at 04:13 PM The truth comes out and Says:

So, we now understand why Obama would free the 'prisoner' (Bergdahl) even though it means freeing five terrorists (against the law, without getting Congresses permission).

Bergdahl (the 'prisoner') left his base with water and a compass by his own free will and said he wanted to live in Afghanistan. It is likely that ten US soldiers died cause of this defector. He's no war hero, he's a traitor who wanted to become a Taliban, with US soldiers' blood on his hands!!

Bergdahl wrote from Afghanistan:
“The US army is the biggest joke the world has to laugh at”. “It is the army of liars, backstabbers, fools, and bullies. Bergdahl also wrote, "These (Afghanistan) people need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world (USA) telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid..."

It is so ironic that this 'prisoner' is himself a traitor, if not a terrorist. So Obama freed 1 US traitor/terrorist AND also got to free 5 Taliban terrorists. That's a no-brainer for Obama!

(Now we know why he didn't check with Congress... Even "his" Congress wouldn't have the Chutzpah to go along with this.)

13

 Jun 01, 2014 at 04:33 PM So foolish Says:

"In weighing the swap, U.S. officials decided it (prisoner swap) could help the effort to reach reconciliation with the Taliban, which the U.S. sees as key to more security in Afghanistan." - The Obama's administration logic is so foolish and deadly. - Liberalism is a mental disorder!

14

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