Some critics of the prisoner swap that exchanged Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban detainees said there was no evidence, as President Barack Obama insisted in a press conference Tuesday, that the soldier’s deteriorating health necessitated swift action to secure his release.
But the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday night that the U.S. intelligence community had evidence of Bergdahl’s failing health, based on a secret analysis of two videos of the soldier in captivity that were provided to U.S. officials. One was shot in 2011 and the other in December 2013, the latter of which has never been publicly shown.
Officials who saw the recent video described Bergdahl’s condition to the Journal as “alarming.” The analysis of the videos showing the accelerating decline of Bergdahl’s health partially convinced some holdouts within the Obama administration, like Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, as well as leaders in the Pentagon to back the proposed deal, according to the Journal.
One anonymous defense official summed up the calculus behind the exchange: Bergdahl’s value as a prisoner was declining rapidly, along with his health, as U.S. troops were slated to pull out of Afghanistan.
“We believe they saw Bergdahl as a golden egg. That is why they kept him alive and as healthy as possible. But as he deteriorated, some people believe he became more of a burden to them,” the official told the Journal. “And as the war was ending some of them [Taliban] came to doubt his value. He was more of a liability as his health declined.”
Former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu (R) appeared Monday on Fox News and compared Bergdahl’s “health issue” to the White House’s initial, flawed explanation for the 2012 Benghazi attacks.
“Well, look, they resorted to a YouTube video as an excuse for the failures of what they did at Benghazi,” he said. “Now they’re resorting to the health issue as an excuse for having done a bad thing here.”
House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Rodgers (R-MI) on Tuesday also disputed that concerns about Bergdahl’s health gave Obama justification to release five prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay facility without notifying Congress 30 days beforehand, as required by law.
“Their rhetoric does not match the facts on the ground. This notion that is was an acute health care — yesterday we were informed it wasn’t acute, they had no information that it was acute,” he said. “I don’t know why you’d say that … everything that they’re saying, I don’t know if they understand that, but there are very clear fact trails here. And those fact trails will come out in the course of time.”