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Congress not told of Bergdahl swap because of Taliban threats

Bergdahl had a history of walking away from base, a classified Army report found, but it was not clear if he meant to leave permanently.
By Gabrielle Levy   |   June 5, 2014 at 2:20 PM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, June 5 (UPI) -- The Obama administration told Congress it deliberately chose not to notify them of its pending deal to swap Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five Guantanamo detainees because of Taliban threats to Bergdahl's life.

At a closed-door session at the Capitol Wednesday, administration officials briefed senators on the negotiations that led to the prisoner exchange in Afghanistan Saturday, including screening a video of a December 2013 proof-of-life video.

Officials said they chose not to divulge the deal to Congress because of fears that it would leak -- and the Taliban threatened to kill the prisoner if it did. Senators learned at the meeting it was that threat that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel referred to Sunday when he said "there was a question about [Bergdahl's] safety.

Those threats, on top of concerns over Bergdahl's deteriorating health, prompted the administration to expedite the proceedings.

"It did not look good," Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., said about Bergdahl's condition in the video, upon leaving the meeting. "I would definitely think that it would have had an emotional impact on the president when he saw it."

The White House has found itself defending the decision to circumvent a rule requiring 30 days notice before releasing prisoners from Guantanamo, while some of Bergdahl's fellow soldiers have accused him of being a deserter.

The Army has determined that Bergdahl had a history of wandering away from his outpost -- and returning -- and deliberately left the night before he was captured by the Taliban, according to a classified report whose content was revealed to the Military Times.

Still, an official familiar with the investigation said they could not determine if he meant to desert.

"We have no indication that he intended to leave permanently," the official said.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said Bergdahl would be investigated, but that his potential desertion had no bearing on the attempt to free him from his five-year captivity.

"The questions about this particular soldier's conduct are separate from our effort to recover ANY U.S. service member in enemy captivity," Dempsey wrote on his Facebook page. "This was likely the last, best opportunity to free him.

"As for the circumstances of his capture, when he is able to provide them, we'll learn the facts," he continued. "Like any American, he is innocent until proven guilty. Our Army's leaders will not look away from misconduct if it occurred. In the meantime, we will continue to care for him and his family."

Follow @gabbilevy and @UPI on Twitter.
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