June 8th, 2014
04:37 PM ET
9 years ago

U.S. official: Sgt. Bergdahl wants to be called private first class

(CNN) - U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was promoted while held prisoner by the Taliban, said he wants to be recognized by his old rank, according to a senior U.S. official.

"In his mind, he's a Pfc," the official told CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr on Sunday.

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Now in the beginning of the lengthy road to reintegration after his exchange for five Taliban commanders previously held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba, Bergdahl is letting those around him know he still feels like a Pfc, regardless of his in-absentia promotion. The U.S. official could not confirm to CNN whether Bergdahl has resumed wearing his uniform but added that doing so is part of the standard reintegration process.

The Pentagon issued a brief statement Sunday, declining to comment on Bergdahl's recovery process beyond saying the Defense Department continues to evaluate Bergdahl, provide him with medical and reintegration care and remains intent on conducting a comprehensive review of the circumstances surrounding his disappearance.

"Our focus remains on providing him with the care he needs," Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement.

The few details emerging around the soldier's recovery after his five years in captivity are a prelude to what's shaping up to be a week defined by confrontation over President Barack Obama and his administration's move to exchange Bergdahl for five Taliban hardliners previously determined too high a risk to release.

The White House executed the deal without consulting or notifying Congress, something various critics of the high-stakes exchange have since labeled an illegal action that violates the National Defense Authorization Act. The Oval Office has defended its decision, citing Bergdahl's rapidly declining health and concerns he could be killed should news of the negotiations leak.

The senior U.S. official cited a proof of life video reportedly shown to senators in a classified intelligence briefing on Thursday as evidence of Bergdahl's worsening condition. The official said the determination, based on that December video, that Bergdahl's health was failing represented the best assessment of the intelligence community at the time. The source also brushed aside any assertion that politics played a role in the White House has sought to characterize Bergdahl's condition.

Senators who attended the briefing left with mixed opinions, with some saying Bergdahl looked sick while others speculated he was drugged in the video in question.

On the potential threat to Bergdahl's life, the official claimed the timeline for the swap accelerated once the agreement was made, hastened by fears that "other Taliban elements might kill him." Senior national security officials were briefed on these developments between the time the Obama administration struck a deal with the Taliban and Bergdahl's handover to American forces at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

All these claims are bound to be put under intense scrutiny this week, with multiple congressional briefings on the docket for defense officials.

Though it's still unclear if they will be shown the December proof of life video shown to senators last week, all House members will receive a closed-door briefing from White House, Pentagon and State Department officials at 5 p.m. Monday. On Tuesday, administration officials will hold another session with the upper chamber, briefing members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on the details of the video and their justifications for bypassing congressional input.

The real fireworks, however, are expected to come on Wednesday when Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is scheduled to testify before the House Armed Services Committee.

Filed under: Bowe Bergdahl
soundoff (110 Responses)
  1. Tony D

    By all accounts he deserted his fellow soldiers in one of the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan. The reason makes no difference as he can concoct anything at this point to save his sorry arse. Throw this deserter in the brig for 20 years. Deserters are usually shot for desertion during times of war. So he will be granted some of his life back but he must pay a price, especially for all of the people that risked, and/or gave, their lives to find him.

    June 8, 2014 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  2. tangledthorns

    The Obama WH is hoping with time the media will forget this story. However make no mistake, America's service members that did serve with honor and distinction will not forget how the Democrats tried to lionize a deserter.

    June 8, 2014 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  3. SR

    "...Feinstein, who has raised doubts about the so-called “credible threat” on Bergdahl’s life several times since Congress was briefed about his June 5 release in exchange for five Taliban detainees at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. “I have heard of none,” she continued.
    Feinstein also raised questions about the administration’s original argument that Bergdahl’s health was in imminent danger, considering the Defense Department told Fox News and other news organizations this weekend that he is being treated for some nutritional deficits that would be considered normal after being in captivity for five years.
    “I think his rapid recovery now may indicate he wasn’t close to death,” she said." This is from a FoxNews article today
    Also, one thing I'm curious about is how he was promoted while being held. In other words, whether it was his fault or not, he was not on the job. So how do you get promoted when you aren't doing anything to earn a promotion?

    June 8, 2014 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  4. edlf2014

    Should be interesting on Wednesday. Ex-Sgt Hagel has found it difficult in the past to answer questions about most anything.

    June 8, 2014 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  5. BlanketJackson

    I guess the taliban was handing out line numbers. Next, beers in the Rose Garden. Maybe a post renamed. Hmmm. Ft. Bergdahl.

    June 8, 2014 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  6. Danielle McCullers

    Frankly, in this case, I don't think it was a wise idea for Obama to make a deal with the Taliban. He should've followed George W. Bush's protocol of not negotiating with Terrorists.

    June 8, 2014 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  7. jr

    You get rank with time in grade. It's always done for MIA or POWs.

    June 8, 2014 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  8. Old favorite

    I smell fish emanating from Penn Ave...again...

    June 8, 2014 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  9. Ugh

    This guy makes me sick the more the facts come out...he is a disgrace to our Service Men and Woman and should NOT be allowed to wear the uniform. Go back to the mountains of Afghanistan where you were not being held captive, but where YOU WANTED TO BE!!

    June 8, 2014 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  10. murky

    Why not name the "Senior US Official"?

    Susan Rice again?

    June 8, 2014 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  11. NYNJCT

    Why Obama promoted the deserter who has created to pass away SIX HONORABLE SOLIDERS???
    I am thinking only one word now "IMPEACH".

    June 8, 2014 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  12. MAL

    Typical ignorant comments. How was he promoted? Because that's how it has been done in the military for decades. They promote you even if you are MIA, until they can prove you are KIA.

    June 8, 2014 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  13. mshare

    Before: Republicans screaming that Obama wasn't doing enough to get Bergdahl free. After: Republicans screaming that Bergdahl is a traitor and Obama should have left him there. Same as it always is...for Republicans. Obama could cure cancer and conservatives would complain, "how dare he! People will lose their jobs because of it."

    June 8, 2014 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  14. JAG

    In what Country? He renounced his Citizenship.

    June 8, 2014 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  15. Stevez-Art!

    Sure would be nice if we could get ALL OF THE FACTS before blasting EITHER side of this issue. Also, if Bergdahl did voluntarily walk away from his post, which we can only find out now after the fact, does that mean his life as an American soldier became null and void? I hear tales that there are MANY servicemen/women that aren't too thrilled with what they're expected to do – are they traitors for questioning our gov'ts. motives? Probably best to err on the side of caution and save each one that are in peril and then ask questions and hand out punishment later, heh??

    June 8, 2014 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  16. PeriSoft

    I wonder what response the right wing would have had if Obama had decided to let Berghdal rot – would they have been consistent, and said, "He was a deserter anyway so even if he dies in Taliban custody it's no big yank"?

    Somehow I can't possibly imagine that happening. Since when is "life imprisonment with possible execution" the penalty for desertion, much less one to be applied without a trial? Since when do we leave a soldier behind because his unit disliked him or he was less a soldier than others around? Should there be some kind of "worth it / not worth it" test applied to each member of the armed forces, so we make sure we don't send really brave men to rescue soldiers who failed to distinguish themselves?

    No. Anyone remotely willing to look past politics can see that we don't, can't, and shouldn't apply subjective quality tests before we rescue our soldiers. The result would be absurdity – "Commander, Bradley is injured and in the line of fire!" "Leave him, corporal, he never really said the pledge out loud anyway!" – I can't believe for a moment that anyone would endorse that scenario. But that in effect is what the right is arguing: Not that it shouldn't have been done for anyone, but that Berghdal just wasn't worth it. That, to me, is an unconscionable, almost revolting assertion.

    Until a soldier is discharged, or court martialed, he's a soldier. And we don't leave soldiers behind to die at the hands of the enemy. The furor over whether Berghdal was a deserter misses the point entirely: Deserter or not, he was still a soldier. That's the only thing that matters. Period.

    June 8, 2014 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  17. BigdaddyUSA

    The Oval Office has defended its decision, citing Bergdahl's rapidly declining health and concerns he could be killed should news of the negotiations leak.
    He wouldn't have been killed. The Taliban wanted their terrorists back.

    June 8, 2014 05:48 pm at 5:48 pm |
  18. Jim Jimson

    I'm not military by background so how does someone get promoted while a prisoner? Is it just a time since enlisted thing?

    June 8, 2014 05:48 pm at 5:48 pm |
  19. Anonymous

    In response to SR:

    While a military member is in POW status, they are promoted based on TIG/promotion eligibility. Basically, if you could have been able to make rank, it's automatic.

    June 8, 2014 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  20. Gregory

    Is Benghazi losing traction? Need to gin up another impeachable offense?

    Saxby Chambliss this morning was laying the ground work for smearing Bergdahl. He said Bergdahl claims he exscaped but since there was no one there to corroborate his said of the story, who knows. Chambliss also added that he had no reason to think Bergdahl was lying, but again, Bergdahl could be making things up.

    Disgusting. And now the Bergdahl parents are receiving threats. I would expect Fox news and their acolytes to behave poorly, but Face the Nation was no better in their coverage this morning.

    No one has questioned the credentials of the soldiers who are complaining about Bergdahl. From what I've read some of the loudest critics should have been the last to complain about honorable service.

    June 8, 2014 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  21. Babble On

    This is a wise move.

    And? Pretty much an admission of guilt, imo, IF he was a POW, then based on my experience growing up with a bunch of USMC Nam vets (That are all getting messed with...) he would be proud, as he had to endure living in a cage with candiru kept in nets...Oh, My Dad has some great stories. Any person whom serves works, and proudly accepts a promotion...He salutes, and is saluted (something Obama knows nothing about).

    He shouldn't even be allowed to keep Pvt!

    June 8, 2014 06:02 pm at 6:02 pm |
  22. cal

    GOP and their supporters would rather have the American die in a cage then make a prisoner swap. GOP do not care about vets.

    June 8, 2014 06:04 pm at 6:04 pm |
  23. Rick McDaniel

    That IS his true rank.

    June 8, 2014 06:04 pm at 6:04 pm |
  24. ph

    Everyone that sent rounds down range in the last 13 years over there wants to hear it directly from the man himself.

    June 8, 2014 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
  25. Areoth

    Regardless the circumstances surrounding his disapearance or desertion. The military policy regarding promotions for POWs is that if while in captivity they miss a promotion opportunity (testing, evaluation etc) that they are given the benefit of the doubt and automatically promoted.

    Just stating this to let those know WHY he was promoted. It was policy, automatic, and happens in every case, and not merit based. As a former combat vet I feel there is a lot of unanswered questions surrounding his disappearance and capture. I think it would be a disservice to other combat vets and the military as a whole if those questions remain unanswered. If he was a deserter, he needs to be busted to E-1, and given a dishonorable discharge at a minimum. I am not as sure when it comes to incarceration, but that could be an option. Traitor is a term I see bandied about a lot and unless he has given aid and comfort to the enemy it would be a stretch to apply it here. I know a lot of good men died during attempts to recover him and that has fueled a lot of emotion. However, the military should run on rules not emotion. If he is guilty of desertion, he needs to face the consequences of his actions, if not then he needs to be vindicated. That said he was not taken in combat, was not abducted from a base or during transport, he should not be considered a hero simply because he was held in what was assuredly poor conditions for five years. Sure he suffered, as would anyone in such a circumstance, but that still does not give him the right to be called a hero.

    I am glad he is home, I would not wish his fate on anyone (however low they may be) and I hope he faces consequences if he is in the wrong. As for his father learning the language, wearing a beard, or saying whatever they felt would bring their son home when talking to the Taliban, well that is what a parent SHOULD do. A father loves their children without reservation, even if their son is wrong, the father did right.

    June 8, 2014 06:17 pm at 6:17 pm |
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