Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Parents hurt by 'deserter' claims

A video image shows Sgt Bowe Bergdahl in a vehicle guarded by the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan (AP/Voice Of Jihad Website)

The former pastor of the parents of a US soldier released from Taliban captivity after nearly five years says they have been "really hurt" by claims that he was a traitor and the outpouring of anger towards their family.

Pastor Phil Proctor of Sterling Presbyterian Church in Sterling, Virginia, said Bob and Jani Bergdahl were surprised by interviews they had seen with former platoon mates of their son Bowe.

Some of the soldiers told media outlets they did not support the exchange of five Taliban officials that led to the sergeant's freedom.

Proctor said the Bergdahls, who live in Idaho, have yet to speak to their son, who is currently recovering at a military hospital in Germany.

The Taliban has said Sgt Bergdahl was treated well during the five years they held him captive - and was even allowed to play football with the men guarding him.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan, said Sgt Bergdahl was held under "good conditions" and given fresh fruit and any other food he requested.

"You can ask him in America about his life (in captivity). He will not complain," he said.

The question of Sgt Bergdahl's well-being is part of a fierce debate in Washington over whether the US should have negotiated for his release in exchange for five Taliban detainees who had been held at Guantanamo Bay.

Sgt Bergdahl, of Hailey, Idaho, was captured after he walked away from his base in June 2009 and US officials believed he was mainly held by the Haqqani network, an insurgent group affiliated with the Taliban, in Pakistan.

He was handed over to the US in a remote area of Khost province, near the Pakistani border.

Mr Mujahid said Sgt Bergdahl was held in different locations inside Afghanistan, without providing further details. He said the soldier enjoyed playing football as well as reading, including English-language books about Islam.

Since Sgt Bergdahl's release senior officials, including US president Barack Obama, have said the prisoner swap that involved the release of five high-profile Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay, and which has caused a furore in the United States, was hastened by concerns that his physical health was deteriorating.

But the Obama administration later told senators it did not notify Congress about the pending swap because of intelligence the Taliban might kill Sgt Bergdahl if the deal was made public, congressional and administration officials said.

Mr Mujahid said he could not immediately comment on whether the Taliban had threatened to kill Sgt Bergdahl.

Several administration and congressional officials said a December video shown to senators in a briefing portrayed Sgt Bergdahl's health as in decline but not so desperately that he required an emergency rescue.

An assessment by US intelligence agencies about the video in January came to the same conclusion, according to two congressional officials.

Taliban fighters freed Sgt Bergdahl on Saturday and turned him over to a US special operations team in eastern Afghanistan.

Under the deal, five Taliban militants were released from Guantanamo and flown to Qatar, where they are to remain for a year under conditions that have not been publicly disclosed.

A federal law requires Congress to be told 30 days before a prisoner is released from Guantanamo, but Obama administration officials said it did not apply in what they deemed an emergency situation.

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