WSJ: Two Videos Prompted Obama Decision on Bergdahl Swap

Wednesday, 04 Jun 2014 11:01 AM

By Melissa Clyne

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Two secret videos showing Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s "rapid deterioration" were key to President Barack Obama’s decision to trade five Taliban prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay in exchange for Bergdahl, according to The Wall Street Journal.

When compared to videos of Bergdahl in captivity in 2011 and 2013, the soldier’s condition had deteriorated significantly, with one unidentified official describing it as "alarming," the Journal reported. Qatar mediators provided U.S. officials with the footage.

The decision by to exchange Bergdahl, 28, for the five Guantanamo detainees has angered many lawmakers, who accuse Obama of violating longstanding U.S. policy not to negotiate with terrorists. Bergdahl is believed to have abandoned his post after becoming disillusioned with the war.

According to the Journal, the deterioration in Bergdahl's health caused officials previously critical of the proposed exchange, including Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, to agree to it. Also, "additional security assurances from Qatar, and the realization that Sgt. Bergdahl's value as a prisoner was declining as his health deteriorated and U.S. troops pulled out of Afghanistan," also played a factor, the newspaper said.

"We believe they saw Bergdahl as a golden egg," a defense official the Journal didn't identify said. "That is why they kept him alive and as healthy as possible. But as he deteriorated, some people believe he became more of a burden to them," the official said.

"And as the war was ending, some of them [Taliban] came to doubt his value. He was more of a liability as his health declined."

An intelligence analysis pinpointed "several possible ailments" Bergdahl might be suffering, but officials declined to provide details, according to the Journal.

At least one lawmaker, California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter, a former Marine officer who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, disputes the White House’s story, the Army Times reported.

"Several sources with knowledge of the situation have informed me that any specifics about [his] health were nearly impossible to assess, unless otherwise stated by the Taliban," Hunter wrote in a letter to Obama on Monday in which he questioned Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s ability to make a call about Bergdahl’s condition.

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California said she has seen no medical evidence that the trade needed to be made so quickly, maintaining that the president had ample time to notify Congress.

U.S. law specifies that Congress be notified 30 days before transferring any Guantanamo detainees. Feinstein said a White House official has since called to apologize for not providing Congress more notice.

"There certainly was time to pick up the phone and call and say, 'I know you all had concerns about this, we consulted in the past, we want you to know we have reviewed these negotiations,'" she said, according to the Journal.

The Washington Post reported that Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, was alerted in 2011 about the possibility of a prisoner swap but that during the discussions "there were very strong views and they were virtually unanimous against the trade."

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