A Republican congressman suggested on Wednesday that the Obama administration was purposely keeping Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in Germany to avoid questioning the former prisoner about his time in captivity and suffering further political embarrassment, eliciting an angry reply from U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
“Why hasn’t he been returned to the United States?” Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) asked during an Armed Services Committee hearing at which Hagel and General Counsel of the Department of Defense Stephen Preston testified about the operation. “We have seriously wounded soldiers that have returned to the United States almost immediately after they are stabilized,” he exclaimed. “You’re trying to tell me he’s being held at Landstuhl, Germany because of his medical condition?”
The questions invited a quick response from Hagel. “Congressman, I hope you’re not implying anything other than that,” he said, adding that Bergdahl, who was held by the Taliban for five years, is under medical treatment in Germany “because our medical professionals don’t believe he’s ready…to take the next step toward rehabilitation.” Watch the exchange:
The administration has claimed that Bergdahl’s mental and physical health deteriorated in captivity to justify why it did not inform Congress of the planned operation. Officials point to a Taliban produced video showing him confused and slurring his words just months before he was rescued. But in the days following the prisoner exchange, critics have seized on different footage Bergdahl waiting for the American helicopter to fly him out of Afghanistan to argue that he was in fine health. Some even claimed that Bergdahl had become an Islamic jihadist.
Rather than being hidden away, Bergdahl is currently undergoing a slow but steady reintroduction to his life as required under military protocol in a three phase process, developed in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Given the length of captivity, in which reports indicate that Bergdahl has lost some mastery of English, Col. Hans Bush, director of public affairs for U.S. Army South which handles all reintegration cases, told TIME “obviously this will be one of our longer cases” of recovery. Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday that Berghdal “is engaging with hospital staff more and more each day,” but added “nobody is going to push it any further or any faster than Sergeant Bergdahl and his caregivers are willing to take it.”
Despite that, this week a bipartisan group of House lawmakers will introduce a non-binding resolution condemning Obama’s decision to release five Taliban detainees in exchange for Bergdahl.