Report: Bergdahl's Parents Allowed in Secret Meetings on Search

Monday, 09 Jun 2014 11:47 AM

By Drew MacKenzie

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The parents of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl were given unprecedented access to the military's search for their son when he was held captive by the Taliban, The Washington Times reported.

Robert and Jani Bergdahl were allowed to sit in on about 20 secret video conferences between leading commanders in Afghanistan hunting their missing child with administration and State Department officials.

Within weeks after Bergdahl was taken prisoner in 2009, the Obama administration arranged for the Bergdahls to travel from their home in Hailey, Idaho, to the state's National Guard headquarters in Boise, according to the Times report.

There, they were able to take part in the live video conferences that included representatives of the U.S. Central Command, which had control over the Afghan war, as well as with White House officials and intelligence chiefs.

Air Force Col. Timothy Marsano, Idaho's National Guard spokesman, said the conferences on the missing soldier were held about very three months, and the Bergdahls took part in as many as 20 over the five years.

They "were regularly informed about what was happening throughout the duration using video teleconferencing with various military and other government agencies," Marsano said. "There was a great effort to keep [them] updated on developments."

Navy Cmdr. Elissa Smith, a Pentagon spokeswoman, told the Times, "We actively communicated with the Bergdahl family on a regular basis through a variety of means to keep them informed on the efforts to recover Sgt. Bergdahl and to highlight the close coordination and teamwork between U.S. Central Command, the Department of Defense, and other U.S. government agencies."

Larry Johnson, who worked in the State Department helping to free American hostages in Lebanon in the 1980s, said he had never previously heard about the families of captive Americans being allowed to listen in on secret high-level meetings about obtaining the release of their relatives.

"It's wrong," Johnson told the Times. "The Bergdahls shouldn't have been part of that for no other reason than on the off chance they may inadvertently divulge some tactic.

"I mean, it's one thing for government officials to interview the family, get insights from the family about what's going on. But to put them in the middle of what is essentially a classified secure video conference is ridiculous."

Bergdahl, 28, was exchanged for five Taliban commanders at the Guantanamo Bay military detention center in Cuba late last month. The Times noted that while he was captive, his father had expressed sympathy for prisoners at Guantanamo.

Asked whether Robert Bergdahl or his wife had been given access to classified information during the video conferences, Marsano told the newspaper, "I certainly don't know of anything like that happening."

He added, "It was very clear to me that the agencies involved, to include the Department of Defense, had a strong interest in ensuring this family had up-to-date information and did not leave them in the dark."

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