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Alarming Bergdahl videos led to prisoner swap

Jun. 4, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Bowe Bergdahl
This file image provided by IntelCenter on Dec. 8, 2010, shows a frame grab from a video released by the Taliban containing footage of Bowe Bergdahl, left. (Intelcenter / AP)
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Secret videos viewed by U.S. military and intelligence officials were enough to win their support for the prisoner swap that resulted in the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, a senior defense official said Wednesday.

Bergdahl’s declining health, which was determined in part by the videos, was a driver in the deal that freed five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay, the official told USA Today. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

The revelation comes as White House officials attempt to ease concerns about the swap raised on both sides of the aisle in Congress.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called the released detainees “hardened terrorists who have the blood of Americans and countless Afghans on their hands.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the Senate Intelligence Committee chair, and Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, also expressed reservations.

“I am concerned about what was given in exchange and I am concerned about what precedents we set here for exchanges,” Menendez said. “I don’t want the message to be, ‘You can go ahead and capture Americans and use them to barter for others.’ “

Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Army chief of staff, said in a statement Wednesday that the safe return of all soldiers in Afghanistan has always been a priority.

“We will never leave a fallen comrade behind,” Odierno said. “Now that Sgt. Bergdahl is back and under our control, first and foremost we must ensure his health is taken care of and he is properly reintegrated.”

The circumstances surrounding Bergdahl’s disappearance, including claims from some comrades that he essentially deserted, have added to the controversy. Odierno promised a “thorough, transparent and complete review of the circumstances surrounding his capture.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., weighed in Wednesday on the side of the administration. Reid accused Republicans of politicizing the deal and, in a speech on the Senate floor, read aloud past statements from Senate Republicans who had said no member of the armed forces should be left behind.

Reid challenged the GOP for now denouncing the exchange for Bergdahl.

“The safe return of an American soldier should not be used for political points,” Reid said. “When a man or woman puts on the uniform as a United States servicemen, they have America’s uncompromising support.”

Reid said questions regarding Bergdahl’s disappearance should be addressed by the Army, not the “Monday morning quarterbacks on Capitol Hill.”

Asked about those releases during the news conference in Warsaw, Obama himself noted that the United States is ending combat operations in Afghanistan and that accounting for prisoners of war is a normal part of the process.

Said Obama: “This is what happens at the end of wars.”

Contributing: Tom Vanden Brook, David Jackson and Jim Michaels; the Associated Press

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