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.
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.