A classified Obama Administration briefing for the U.S. Senate Wednesday night failed to convince several lawmakers that the freedom of America’s final Afghanistan prisoner of war, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, had been worth the price of releasing five Taliban leaders from the detention center at Guantanamo Bay.
A main feature of the briefing was the presentation of a short “proof of life” video of Bergdahl, which administration officials have said led them to believe that Bergdahl's health was in danger. After watching the video, estimated to last about 90 seconds by Illinois Republican Sen. Mark Kirk, several Senators said they did not see evidence of an imminent threat to his life.
“It appeared that he was drugged and that he was barely responsive in the video,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee. “I don’t think from a health standpoint there was any issue that dictated the release of these five [Taliban members] in exchange for Bergdahl.” Chambliss, who says he thinks the video should be released to the public, added that he could not speak to whether or not Bergdahl's safety was at risk.
“His health was not the critical factor,” said Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia. ”In that one video you could tell that he had been drugged. He was in a different state. That was back in December, five months ago.”
“That did not sell me at all,” Manchin added. “He was not in that type of dire situation when he was released—didn't look sick to me.”
Nonetheless, Kirk said he believes the video still had some effect on influencing President Obama to make a deal for Bergdahl's release. “I would definitely think that it would have an emotional impact on the President, which is probably why the Taliban released it,” said Kirk. “He didn’t look good. I understand the emotional power of that video.”
The Administration officials that briefed the Senate included Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken, as well as representatives from the State Department, the Office of the Director National Intelligence and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.