- Video shows Bergdahl clean shaven in a white pickup truck and surrounded by armed guards before handover to Navy Seals
- In the video he appears well and is able to walk unaided – despite U.S. officials’ claims that his health was a major concern that led to the trade
- Fellow soldiers have spoken of their surprise at the POW’s healthy appearance
- A former Navy SEAL and hostage expert told MailOnline: ‘He appears as healthy was when he was captured’
- US government was sent videos around Christmas showing Bergdahl to be in a bad state
- But analysts have now questioned whether Washington was duped into making the trade by lies over Bergdahl’s health
- Video also shows footage of five detainees arriving in Qatar after release
- Fellow soldiers have claimed Bergdahl deserted his post in 2009
- Top military officer has said Army might still investigate Bergdahl, the results of which could lead to desertion or other charges
The Taliban have released a propaganda video of the moment accused deserter U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was handed over to American troops in eastern Afghanistan – a trade that has since become a major embarrassment for the president.
The footage reveals that Bergdahl is able to walk unaided, despite claims by U.S. officials that his health had been key in the decision to act quickly in the prisoner swap. The swift move meant that the president illegally failed to notify Congress before the trade, Republicans have said.
In the video, which emerged overnight, Bergdahl is clean shaven with a shaved head and dressed in a white salwar kameez waiting in a white pick-up truck as Taliban militants stand outside.
Armed gunmen can also be seen standing on the hills around the valley as Black Hawk helicopters draw closer to the meeting point.
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Switch: The Taliban has released a video showing the handover of Sgt Bowe Bergdahl to the American military close to the Afghan border. Bergdahl can be seen in the back of a white pickup truck
Release: A Taliban fighter speaks to Sgt. Bergdahl, in eastern Afghanistan ahead of the handover
Guarded: Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl sits in a vehicle guarded by the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan
Handover: The Taliban released the video of Bergdahl, who is pictured in the pickup truck
Waiting: As two Black Hawk helicopters draw closer, Bergdahl stands surrounded by armed men
A voice-over on the clip says: ‘We told them there are 18 armed fighters and the Americans said that’s alright.’
As one of the helicopters lands, Bergdahl is led to his Navy Seal rescuers by two men, one leading him by the hand and another waving a white cloth tied to a wooden stick.
Most of the Taliban have their faces covered with scarves, while Bergdahl wears his over his shoulders.
They are greeted by three men and both sides shake hands before Bergdahl is led by the arm to the helicopter.
The aircraft takes off and the message in English flashes up: ‘Don’ come back to Afghanistan’ [sic].
The video’s authenticity could not be independently verified.
Five years after he was captured by Afghan militants, Bergdahl was freed at the weekend in exchange for five militants held at Guantanamo Bay.
‘Healthy’: One of the men carries a white flag as the Black Hawk helicopter draws nearer and Bergdahl, who U.S. officials said was in poor health, can be seen walking towards it unaided
Trade: As one of the helicopters lands, Bergdahl is led to his rescuers by the two men. The video captures both sides quickly shaking hands (seen right) as Bergdahl looks on
Patting down: Bergdahl can be seen being briefly frisked before he gets on the helicopter in the video
Final check: He is briefly frisked again before climbing aboard the helicopter as he is led by the arm
The release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in Taliban prisoner swap
The 28-year-old is now in a military hospital in Germany, undergoing physical and mental assessments.
U.S. Defense Department press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said the Pentagon was reviewing the video even though it had no reason to doubt its authenticity. ‘Regardless, we know the transfer was peaceful and successful, and our focus remains on getting Sgt. Bergdahl the care he needs,’ Kirby said Wednesday.
The five militants were put in the custody of the tiny Gulf emirate of Qatar, where they are to remain for a year. The video also showed their arrival in Qatar, where they are greeted with warm embraces, while a Taliban victory song is played in the background.
The episode has been an embarrassment to Obama who welcomed the rescue of Bergdahl, but has since faced claims he broke the law by not giving Congress advance notice of the swap.
Republicans in Congress criticized the agreement and complained about not having been consulted about the terms of Bergdahl’s release.
In flight: Bergdahl is led into the helicopter which then takes off and flies away from eastern Afghanistan
In waiting: Armed gunmen can be seen on the hills around the valley as Black Hawk helicopters hover above
Five years after he was captured by Afghan militants, Bergdahl, who is pictured sitting in the pickup truck ahead of the handover, was freed at the weekend in exchange for five militants held at Guantanamo Bay
At two points in the video the message in English flashes up: ‘Don’ come back to Afghanistan’ [sic]
They say that by unilaterally negotiating the terms of Bergdahl’s release, the President broke a federal law that requires him to notify members of Congress 30 days before releasing anyone from Guantanamo Bay.
But Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters that the administration had decided to go ahead with the exchange because Bergdahl’s ‘safety and health were both in jeopardy’.
The U.S. believed that his health was ‘deteriorating’ and that securing his release was urgent ‘to save his life’, Hagel said.
Two other videos that were provided to the U.S. from 2011 and December 2013 had revealed the rapid deterioration of his health, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Intelligence agencies evaluated the videos and identified several possible ailments that could have led to his deterioration – but officials would not discuss what these might be.
‘To see him like that, we knew we had to move quickly,’ a senior official said.
But Senator Saxby Chambliss, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee said: ‘There has not been even the weakest case, in my opinion, made that he was suffering from a health standpoint to the degree to which a decision had to be made.’
‘He was undernourished, not necessarily malnourished,’ echoed Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the panel’s Democratic chair, citing an assessment from a few months ago.
‘Unless something catastrophic happened, I think there was no reason to believe he was in instant danger.’
Angry that neither Congress or the Senate had been consulted, she added: ‘There certainly was time to pick up the phone and call.
Indeed, based on his appearance in his release video many are saying that the President has been misled.
A U.S. official reportedly told the Washington Times that analysts now believe the Taliban may have exaggerated Bergdahl’s run-down appearance in his final videos home in a bid to get the government to move quickly.
Former comrades say Bergdahl’s appearance shows he had a fair relationship with his captors.
A soldier who served in Bergdahl’s platoon said: ‘It just shows that he was not a POW but a willing member of the Taliban because he was in such good shape.’
Another of Bergdahl’s former comrades who is still in the military and asked to remain anonymous added: ‘He looks a lot better than I expected.
‘I would have thought he would have been a lot thinner.’
‘I would have gone on hunger strike but it looks like he ate their food and was well looked after.
‘You don’t know what was going on in his head but physically there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with him’.
Dan O’Shea, a former Navy SEAL Commander and hostage expert, said that while the Bergdahl’s medical examination was still ongoing, the claim that he had to be pulled out of Afghanistan on health grounds was likely going to be ‘disproved’.
Referring to the latest video of Bergdahl’s release, Mr O’Shea said: ‘He appeared as healthy as when he was captured.
‘He was a healthy and fit young man when captured and appears to be the same today. He was also completely ambulatory and able to walk of his own accord unlike Vietnam POWs who initially required crutches such as John McCain who to this day is unable to lift his hands above his head, after years of torture and poor medical treatment in captivity.’
Other former captives he had debriefed had trouble walking without assistance like the case of Roy Hallums, the American contractor kidnapped in Iraq in 2004 who was buried underground for almost a year before his rescue by the US military.
Mr O’Shea added that the whilst the Taliban live a traditional farming lifestyle and are not wealthy by Western standards, they look after themselves and eat relatively healthy agrarian diet.
He had spent time in the same region of Afghanistan that Bergdahl was captured during 2011 and 2012 when he was working as a counter-insurgency adviser for the Commander of International Security Forces – Afghanistan.
Mr O’Shea said: ‘I have gone to dinners with the locals when they serve chicken and goat, with rice, vegetables and even fruit. It’s not high living but they eat a healthy diet.
‘The Afghan community lives by a ‘Pashtunwali – ‘code of life’ whereby they treat visitors to their village, with profound hospitality and respect to all visitors, regardless of race, religion, nationality or status that can include captives.
‘This is not to say he wasn’t tied up or tortured, but reports have come out that Bergdahl was largely treated humanely by the Taliban.’
Meanwhile, some of Bergdahl’s one-time comrades assert that the search for Bergdahl after he went missing in Afghanistan on June 30, 2009, may have cost the lives of up to six fellow soldiers who searched for him.
Obama, at a news conference in Poland, defended the decision to move quickly on the exchange
Days after his rescue, Bergdahl (pictured in a video released by the Taliban in 2010) was in stable condition at a U.S. military hospital in Germany
Obama had issued a statement when he signed the law containing the requirement to give Congress the 30 days notice, giving himself a loophole for certain circumstances under the executive powers clause of the Constitution.
Obama, at a news conference in Poland, defended the decision to move quickly on the exchange, saying without offering details that U.S. officials were concerned about Bergdahl’s health.
‘We had the cooperation of the Qataris to execute an exchange, and we seized that opportunity,’ Obama said. He said the process of notifying Congress was ‘truncated because we wanted to make sure that we did not miss that window’ of opportunity.
Obama also said the five Taliban officials’ release was conditioned on assurances from officials in Qatar, where they will have to stay for one year, that they will track them and allow the U.S. to monitor them. Still, the president acknowledged the risk.
‘We will be keeping eyes on them. Is there the possibility of some of them trying to return to activities that are detrimental to us? Absolutely,’ Obama said. ‘That’s been true of all the prisoners that were released from Guantanamo.’
Obama also brushed aside questions yesterday about how Sgt. Bergdahl was captured in 2009.
Jubilant: A pro-Taliban website has previously published a video that claims to show Taliban detainees arriving in Qatar after being released from Guantanamo Bay as part of the prisoner exchange
‘Victory’: Everyone is clearly jubilant that the prisoners are free and have been released into the custody of Qatar
Five Taliban Guantanamo prisoners arrive in Qatar
The Pentagon concluded in 2010 that Bergdahl walked away from his unit, and, after an initial flurry of searching, the military curbed any high-risk rescue plans.
‘Regardless of the circumstances, whatever those circumstances may turn out to be, we still get an American solider back if he’s held in captivity,’ Obama said. ‘We don’t condition that.’
The five detainees – Mohammad Fazl, Khairullah Khairkhwa, Mullah Norullah Noori, Mohammed Nabi and Abdul Haq Wasiq – are thought to be the most senior Afghans who were held at the U.S. detention facility in Cuba, having been captured during America’s military campaign in 2001.
A pro-Taliban website yesterday published the footage that claims to show the Taliban detainees arriving in Qatar after being released from Guantanamo Bay as part of the prisoner exchange.
The footage also features in the latest video released by the Taliban.
In the video, released by nunn.asia, a group of men wearing traditional Muslim dress gather on a roadside in what is said to be Qatar.
U.S. President Barack Obama stands with Bob Bergdahl (right) and Jami Bergdahl as he delivers a statement about the release of their son, Sgt Bergdahl
Captive: Bergdahl, pictured in a video released by his captors in 2010, was freed at the weekend five years after he was captured by Afghan militants
When the former prisoners – it’s not clear if all of them are present or just a few – pull up in a convoy of black SUVs, they receive a warm reception, with lots of hugs from the awaiting, clearly jubilant, supporters. There is no American presence in sight.
The top military officer in the U.S. has today said the Army could still throw the book at Bergdahl, who walked away from his unit in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan and into five years of captivity by the Taliban.
A 2010 report on the soldier indeed found he was long thought to be a flight risk and may have left his base before, a Military Times report said.
Other reports claim he cited boredom as his reason for venturing off camp in that instance.
Charges are still a possibility, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told The Associated Press as criticism mounted in Congress about releasing five high-level Taliban detainees in exchange for Bergdahl.
The Army might still pursue an investigation, Dempsey said, and those results could conceivably lead to desertion or other charges.