Obama's case for rescuing soldier undermined by video
Published 05/06/2014 | 02:30
US PRESIDENT Barack Obama faced renewed questioning over the Sgt Bowe Bergdahl prisoner-swap last night after a Taliban video of his release appeared to undermine White House claims that the soldier's rapidly deteriorating health had given them no time to consult Congress.
The video, which showed Sgt Bergdahl walking unaided to a US special forces helicopter, comes as former members of his army unit claimed that the troubled soldier had left a note in his tent saying he wanted to renounce his US citizenship and "start a new life".
The decision to swap five Taliban militants from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for Sgt Bergdahl has led to accusations from Republicans and Democrats that Mr Obama broke the law by failing to give 30 days' notice to Congress.
The video released by the Taliban yesterday also appeared to contradict briefings by US intelligence officials that Sgt Bergdahl had suffered an "alarming" deterioration in health, citing two still-classified videos.
The film showed Sgt Bergdahl looking under stress and blinking repeatedly but walking freely to the waiting helicopter, which he boarded without assistance after being searched for weapons.
As Mr Obama continued his trip to Europe for D-Day anniversary ceremonies, political anger was deepening in Washington over an episode that the White House had hoped would produce an outpouring of joy.
Dianne Feinstein, the Democrat chairman of the powerful Senate intelligence committee said she had seen no evidence that Sgt Bergdahl was in such immediate medical danger that it was necessary to act without consulting Congress.
"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.
She added that it was "very disappointing" that senators were not notified.
"I strongly believe that we should have been consulted, that the law should have been followed. And I very much regret that that was not the case," she said.
Republicans moved to maximise the political fallout from the Bergdahl case, saying that it showed that the Obama administration had "gone rogue".
"I think (it was) unwise, probably unlawful. But, at its very minimum, it stinks to high heaven," said Lindsay Graham, a hawkish Republican senator.
Accusations from former comrades that Sgt Bergdahl was a deserter who walked off his base and may even have provided information to the Taliban that cost US lives have added fuel to criticism of the swap.
Senior US military officials who debriefed two former members of Sgt Bergdahl's unit told Fox News that on the night he disappeared, he left behind a note in which he expressed disillusionment with the army and suggested that he wanted to renounce his American citizenship and go to find the Taliban.
However, other US army officials who have read the original classified 2010 investigation report into his case said the document did not refer to a note.
The then army private disappeared from the small outpost in Paktika province in July 2009 and was captured by the Taliban.
The internal investigation a year later concluded that it was "incontrovertible" that he walked away from his unit near the Pakistan border, although it did not list him as a defector.
Sgt Bergdahl's former unit leader said that when Taliban attacks on their base became more accurate and frequent following his disappearance, troops feared that the missing soldier was supplying information to the enemy, either under duress or voluntarily. (© Daily Telegraph, London)