One of the main claims that the Obama administration made to justify giving up five Taliban commanders in exchange for Army sergeant Bowe Bergdahl has been undermined, according to U.S. officials who say he is “physically sound.”
Obama administration officials have said that Bergdahl’s health was deteriorating rapidly and that he was in imminent danger after being held captive by the Haqqani network for nearly five years.
Because of his condition, a deal to free him from captivity was fast-tracked, the administration has maintained.
But U.S. officials who have been briefed on Bergdahl’s condition since his return into U.S. hands told The New York Times that he is healthier than expected.
According to the report, the officials said that Bergahl is not malnourished. He weighs 160 pounds, a healthy weight for his 5-foot-9 frame.
“He suffers from skin and gum disorders typical of poor hygiene and exposure, but otherwise is physically sound, one official said,” the Times reported.
Bergdahl is recovering at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.
Pentagon and Joint Chiefs of Staff officials briefed a group of U.S. senators on Wednesday, showing them a “proof of life” video of Bergdahl filmed in December. It was meant to show that Bergdahl was in dire straits. (RELATED: Senators Said They Learned Nothing From Bergdahl Briefing)
But many of the senators in the closed-door session came away saying that Bergdahl merely looked drugged rather than in poor physical health.
“That did not sell me at all,” Democratic West Virginia U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin said on Wednesday as he was leaving the briefing. “That was from five months ago, he was impaired…That was not the person who was released here. He was not in that type of dire situation when released.”
The Times added other details of Bergdahl’s development since he was freed last Saturday.
Bergdahl said he was kept in a metal cage in the dark for weeks or even months after trying to escape.
He is physically capable of traveling back to the U.S., the officials said, but not in a mental state to meet his family or face the media attention that likely awaits him.
Bergdahl also donned his Army uniform for the first time since being captured, the Times reported.
Unbeknownst to Bergdahl, who does not have access to news in his German hospital, questions are swirling over whether trading him for the five Taliban commanders was worth it. He has been called a deserter by some of his former fellow soldiers and others have blamed him for the deaths of soldiers deployed to search for him.
Some lawmakers have also expressed fears that the five Taliban leaders who were released will return to the Afghan battlefield to resume fighting against the U.S. (RELATED: Report: Freed Taliban Commander Vows To Return To War Against U.S.)
According to the officials, Bergdahl bristles when hospital staff call him sergeant, rather than private, his rank when he disappeared on June 30, 2009.
“He says, ‘Don’t call me that,’” said an American official, according to the Times. “‘I didn’t go before the boards. I didn’t earn it.’”
Bergdahl was promoted twice while in captivity.