U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl has said he was held in solitary confinement for long periods during five years in Taliban captivity, according to a U.S. military official who said he has skin and gum disorders and has not yet spoken to his parents.
Bergdahl, who was released on May 31 to American forces in exchange for five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay prison, is being treated at the U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany.
A U.S. military official told Reuters the 28-year-old is physically well enough to travel back to the United States for treatment. He is suffering from disorders affecting his skin and gums that could be expected after his long captivity, the official said, confirming a report in The New York Times.
The newspaper reported on Sunday that Bergdahl told medical officials in Germany the Taliban kept him in a metal cage in the dark for weeks after he tried to escape.
Bergdahl, who was a private when he was captured, does not like being called a sergeant, the rank he was promoted to while in captivity, the military official told Reuters. The soldier is struggling with some emotional issues and has not spoken to his parents, the official said, speaking on condition of anomymity.
Bergdahl’s release and the exchange deal with the Taliban, which was brokered by Qatar, has provoked an angry backlash in Congress over the Obama administration’s failure to notify lawmakers in advance that Taliban prisoners were leaving the Guantanamo prison camp. The ex-prisoners were sent to Qatar where they will remain for at least a year under certain restrictions.
Stoking the controversy, some of Bergdahl’s former comrades have charged he was captured by the Taliban in 2009 after deserting his post.
U.S. military leaders have said the circumstances of Bergdahl’s capture are unclear. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has urged critics to wait for all the facts to be known before rushing to judgment on Bergdahl.
President Barack Obama told a news conference in Brussels on Thursday that he made “absolutely no apologies” for the deal to secure Bergdahl’s release. As U.S. military commander-in-chief he was “responsible for those kids” and ensuring no one was left behind, he said.
The New York Times said the 5-foot-9 (1.72-metre) tall Bergdahl weighed 160 pounds (72 kg) and showed few signs of malnourishment or the physical frailty.
U.S. officials said on Thursday they needed to move quickly on the prisoner exchange because of concerns about Bergdahl’s health as well as fears that leaks could cause the deal to collapse or prompt a Taliban member who disagreed with it to kill Bergdahl.
Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said he could not confirm the details of Times report.
The Times also said Bergdahal does not have access to media reports at the hospital where he is being treated. He is expected to be moved at some stage to a U.S. military hospital in San Antonio, Texas, for further treatment, although officials have given no date yet for that transfer.
Bergdahl’s father, Bob Bergdahl, has received emailed death threats that authorities are investigating, an Idaho police chief said on Saturday.
The first threat was received on Wednesday, the same day the city canceled a planned rally celebrating Bergdahl’s release, Hailey Police Chief Jeff Gunter said.
Hailey, a tourist community of 8,000 people in the mountains of central Idaho, was buffeted by hundreds of vitriolic phone calls and emails.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart and David Brunnstrom; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Frances Kerry)