Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl suffered harsh treatment at the hands of his Taliban captors and is not yet emotionally ready to speak with his family more than a week after his release, according to reports Sunday.
Bergdahl, who was freed May 31 by the Taliban in a controversial exchange for five Guantánamo Bay prisoners, has not yet contacted his parents even though he is free to do so at any time, multiple news sources reported, citing anonymous U.S. officials. He has received a letter from his sister but has not yet responded, the New York Times reports. The Wall Street Journal, citing an anonymous official, reports Bergdahl has declined to speak with his family so far.
The 28-year-old is suffering from disorders affecting his gums and skin after five years in captivity, though he is otherwise in sound health and shows few signs of the malnourishment apparent in earlier videos the Taliban made of the soldier late last year. Bergdahl was held in a metal cage in the darkness for weeks after a failed escape attempt, according to reports, and is emotionally unstable. Despite that, he is physically healthy enough to travel back to the U.S. for treatment, officials said.
“The Department of Defense does not comment on discussions that Sergeant Bergdahl is having with the professionals who are providing him medical and reintegration care,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement. “We will respect that process in all regards.”
His release has ignited a political firestorm, with members of Congress clamoring that President Barack Obama broke the law by transferring detainees from Guantánamo Bay without congressional notification, and some of his fellow soldiers accusing him of desertion.
“As we have noted, the Army will conduct a comprehensive review to learn the circumstances of Sergeant Bergdahl’s disappearance and captivity,” Kirby added. “That process, too, needs to be respected. Our focus remains on providing him with the care he needs.”
Republican Representative Mike Rogers of Michigan said on Sunday he was sure that three of the five former Guantánamo prisoners exchanged for Bergdahl would return to the battlefield. “I am absolutely convinced of that,” Rogers said on ABC’s This Week.
Secretary of State John Kerry vigorously defended the prisoner swap on Sunday, saying it would have been “offensive and incomprehensible” to leave Sergeant Bergdahl in the hands of people who might torture him or “cut off his head.” Kerry warned that the released Taliban leaders could be killed if they return to the fight.