President Barack Obama says Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was an ailing “prisoner of war,” but his top deputies are describing him as a hostage who would be killed if the White House didn’t agree to a surprise trade.
Congress was not informed that ”there was evidence, or at least, there was an analysis, that a premature disclosure would result in the loss of his life,” Obama’s top counselor, John Podesta, told reporters during a June 6 breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
Podesta’s discordant statement is yet another crack in the administration’s explanation for the much-protested decision to swap five Top Taliban leaders for one possible U.S. Army deserter, Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.
Podesta’s description clashes with Obama’s June 5 claim that he accepted the trade because Bergdahl’s health was ailing.
“We had a prisoner of war whose health had deteriorated and we were deeply concerned about, and we saw an opportunity [to trade] and we seized it,” he told reporters Thursday morning. “I make no apologies for that.”
Obama’s claim about Bergdahl’s supposed illness was undermined when the Taliban released a video showing him in apparent good health as he was picked up by U.S. soldiers.
Podesta’s version is also being broadcast by other officials.
“The Obama administration has told senators it didn’t notify Congress about the pending swap of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban officials because the Taliban had threatened to kill him if the deal was made public, [according to] three congressional officials,“ said a June 5 report by The Associated Press.
The administration is patching up other contradictions.
On June 1, Obama’s top national security aide, Susan Rice, told the nation that Bergdahl had “served the United States with honor and distinction.”
The claim was undermined by reports that Bergdahl had deserted and perhaps even cooperated with the enemy.
Two days later, White House press secretary Jay Carney revised Rice’s comment, saying Bergdahl’s decision to join the military was honorable. ”Bergdahl put on the uniform of the United States voluntarily and went to war for the United States voluntarily,” Carney said in an interview with CNN. “That takes honor and is a mark of distinction.”
On June 5, Obama repeatedly described Bergdahl and his fellow soldiers in a demeaning fashion as “kids” and “children.”
“As Commander-in-Chief of the United States Armed Forces, I am responsible for those kids… I write too many letters to folks who unfortunately don’t see their children again after fighting the war,” he said.
In subsequent statements, Obama and other officials dropped the demeaning references, and described the soldiers as service members and as troops. “This year we will bring our troops home from Afghanistan [and] they can be proud of what they’ve achieved over the last decade — denying terrorists the safe haven from which to plot attacks against Britain or the United States,” Obama said in the same press conference.
During the May 30 Rose Garden ceremony when he announced the trade, Bergdahl’s father quoted an Arabic-language Islamic prayer that attributed the swap to the Taliban’s spiritual leader, the Islamic deity Allah. Obama’s official transcript of the event, however, did not include the text of the prayer and said the statement was made in the Pashto language used by most Taliban gunmen.
Some contradictions, however, have not been resolved.
After the Bergdahl trade, White House officials said they rushed the swap once a “proof of life” video provided by Bergdahl’s captors showed him to be in poor health.
But senators who viewed the video on June 4 suggested the video merely showed Bergdahl as ill and drugged, not ailing or dying.
“He looked either drugged or tired or sick,” said Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin. “It’s hard to describe, but he did not look like a normal person,” he added.
The video was made “back in December, five months ago,” Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin said after viewing the video.