In a Tatler post earlier today, my colleague Bryan Preston makes some salient points about the condition of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl when he was released.
Recall that the White House said that Bergdahl was seriously ill and that his death may have been “imminent.”
NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski appeared on Morning Joe today and noted that Bowe Bergdahl appears to be in good health in that video of his release that the Taliban has pushed out. In the video, Bergdahl is seen wearing Afghan clothing and walking on his own. He looks thin, but has no trouble getting around at all.
Miklaszewski mocks Obama admininistration official Susan Rice for “once again” going on Sunday shows and saying things that turn out to be pathetically easy to disprove. While he’s in mock mode on Rice, even Mika Brzezinski groans.
I, too, was convinced that the health issue was a dodge used by the White House to excuse their not informing Congress of the exchange, as well as explaining why they concluded negotiations with the Taliban in such haste.
But the Wall Street Journal has learned that there were two “secret” videotapes not released to the public that show Bergdahl’s condition deteriorating at an “alarming” rate between 2011 and 2013. There was also a concern in intelligence circles that Bergdahl’s life was becoming less valuable the closer the US came to pulling out. His medical condition may have become such a burden to his captors that they may have concluded he wasn’t worth keeping alive as a bargaining chip.
That analysis finally convinced DNI James Clapper and high ranking officers at the Pentagon that they should conclude the deal quickly and bring Bergdahl home.
A secret intelligence analysis, based on a comparison of Taliban videos of Sgt. Bergdahl in captivity in 2011 and December 2013 that were provided to the U.S., found that the soldier’s rate of deterioration was accelerating. The latest video, provided to U.S. officials by mediators in Qatar, has never been publicly shown. Officials who have seen the video described Sgt. Bergdahl’s condition as “alarming.”
Evaluations of the two videos didn’t allow officials to estimate with any precision how much longer Sgt. Bergdahl might have to live without adequate treatment. But in the analysis, intelligence agencies identified several possible ailments to explain the change in his condition. Officials with access to the analysis declined to provide details about what those ailments were and what treatment Sgt. Bergdahl is now receiving at a U.S. military hospital in Germany.
Qatari representatives provided the latest video of Sgt. Bergdahl in January. The video was shot the previous month.
The growing U.S. concern about Sgt. Bergdahl’s deterioration helped convince key officials who previously were critical of the proposed deal, including Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, to back trading him for five Taliban detainees from the Guantanamo Bay prison.
“Like others, DNI Clapper expressed concerns in 2012 about the prospect of releasing these five detainees” to Qatar, DNI spokesman Shawn Turner said, without commenting on any analysis of the videos. “However, the circumstances have changed dramatically.”
Mr. Turner said the intelligence community had “evidence that Sgt. Bergdahl’s health was failing and that he was in desperate need of medical attention.” Mr. Turner said Mr. Clapper also decided to support the exchange because of the planned drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, which meant fewer resources would have been available to locate Sgt. Bergdahl.
The credibility of this administration is shot to hell, so I would hesitate to take this account as gospel. Still, it’s apparent something changed Clapper’s mind and the minds of people at the Pentagon, otherwise you can be sure we would have had a strategic leak or two detailing someone’s opposition to the deal by now.
What changed in the last year?
Three things changed between the time Mr. Panetta rejected the arrangement and Mr. Hagel signed it, a defense official said: The health assessment, 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.
“We believe they saw Bergdahl as a golden egg. 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.”
The fact that Bergdahl was walking on his own with little difficulty does not mean he wouldn’t have been dead in another month. As the article points out, Bergdahl may have been suffering from several debilitating conditions that might have led to his death. Nor can we speculate on whether his captors would have eventually tired of negotiations and simply killed him.
Whatever Bergdahl’s motivations, whether he deserted or not, or collaborated with the enemy, by 2012 he wanted to come home. There are many things we can question and criticize about this deal. But Bergdahl’s superiors acted correctly in trying to free him, as honor and tradition demanded.