While defending his decision to trade five Guantanamo detainees for Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, President Obama explained on Tuesday, “We saw an opportunity, and we were concerned about Bergdahl’s health.” While his specific ailments remain unclear, on Tuesday The Wall Street Journal reported that two videos showing Bergdahl’s rapid deterioration persuaded some reluctant military and intelligence leaders that they had to rescue him immediately. The footage has not been made public, but early on Wednesday the Taliban released a propaganda video, showing the world the moment Bergdahl was released for the first time.
In January, Qatari representatives provided a recent video of Bergdahl, and according to the paper, U.S. officials found the POW’s condition “alarming.” “To see him like that, we knew we had to move quickly,” said an intelligence official. A secret intelligence analysis comparing the December 2013 video to footage shot by the Taliban in 2011 concluded that Bergdahl’s rate of deterioration was accelerating, and identified several conditions that might have caused the change.
After a private briefing on Tuesday, Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein contradicted that narrative, saying she’s seen no evidence that Bergdahl was in immediate medical danger. “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 of the White House’s failure to provide more notice to Congress.
It’s impossible to judge Bergdahl’s medical condition from the new video of his release, but he shows no obvious signs of injury. The full 17-minute video (available here), was emailed to media outlets from a known Taliban spokesman. Bergdahl’s release (shown in the video below) is bookended by propaganda messages. First Bergdahl, clean-shaven and dressed in Afghan clothing, sits in a white pickup truck in an open field, exchanging a few words with his captors. The surrounding field is dotted with armed militants.
As a U.S. Black Hawk helicopter lands, Taliban members approach with Bergdahl, holding a white flag. Three men in civilian clothing get off the helicopter, shake hands with the Taliban members, and walk away with Bergdahl. The whole exchange takes under a minute, and Bergdahl is seen off with a warning message: “Don’t come back to Afghanistan.”