Monday, June 9, 2014

No evidence US soldier converted to Islam


WASHINGTON - A senior White House aide says he had seen “no evidence” to confirm a report that freed US soldier Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl converted to Islam, fraternised with the Taliban and declared ‘jihad’ during nearly five years of captivity.

“We have seen no evidence of that,” Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken told CNN when asked about a Fox News report about Bergdahl’s conduct while imprisoned by the Taliban. Blinken went on to say it was “repugnant” that critics were drawing conclusions about Bergdahl’s service before military investigators had a chance to determine all the facts.

“The idea that we are trying Sergeant Bergdahl in the court of public opinion in absentia, without giving him an opportunity to give his story and to tell us what happened, frankly, I find repugnant,” Blinken said. “We don’t know what happened. We are determined to get to the bottom of it. The military will investigate appropriately. Let’s get the facts before we rush to judgment.”

The Fox News report is based on dispatches written by a Pentagon subcontractor staffed by former intelligence officials hired to prepare reports on terrorist activities. The head of the firm told the network he provided intelligence briefs to the director of intelligence at the US Central Command.

According to those dispatches, Bergdahl played soccer and at times was allowed to carry a gun while in Taliban captivity. But the report also says Bergdahl attempted to escape and was punished by being kept in a metal cage.

Bergdahl has also come under criticism from fellow service members who charge he deliberately left his camp before he was captured by the Taliban.

President Barack Obama said Thursday that he would make “no apologies” for securing Bergdahl’s release.

“The American people understand this is somebody’s child and that we don’t condition whether or not we make the effort to get someone back,” Obama said.

Obama also denounced “controversies that are whipped up in Washington.” “I make absolutely no apologies for making sure we get back a young man to his parents,” Obama said at a joint press conference in Brussels with British Prime Minister David Cameron.

The New York Times, meanwhile, reported that the Army produced a 35-page classified report detailing its investigation into Bergdahl’s disappearance. It said he wandered away from assigned areas at other times during his service, both during training in California and from his post in Afghanistan, but then returned.

The report, which was based on extensive interviews with members of Bergdahl’s unit in 2009, did not make mention of Bergdahl leaving a letter in his tent about being disillusioned with his military service and the US mission in Afghanistan, as some of his fellow platoon members have told the media this week.

It did confirm that Bergdahl had shipped his computer and journal home before leaving his post, and that he left behind his body armour and machine gun.

CNN reported Saturday that Sergeant Bergdahl said he was held in a metal box or cage, but the officials on Saturday offered new details. He was kept there apparently as punishment for one or possibly two attempted escapes, as first reported by the Daily Beast website last week and confirmed by an American official.

“It’s safe to assume” that Sergeant Bergdahl was “held in harsh conditions,” a senior Defence Department official was quoted as saying by the Times on Saturday. “These are Taliban, not wet nurses.” Details of other mistreatment were not released.

When the medical specialists deem Sergeant Bergdahl ready, his next step will be longer-term therapy and counseling at a military medical centre in San Antonio before a carefully managed homecoming in Hailey, Idaho. At some point, he will speak by phone with his family, and be reunited with them.