TIME isis

Kayla Mueller’s Family Says Bergdahl Deal Hurt Her Chance for Freedom

Kayla Mueller
Matt Hinshaw—The Daily Courier/AP Kayla Mueller is seen after speaking to a group in Prescott, Ariz. on May 30, 2013.

ISIS claims the American aid worker was killed in a Jordanian air strike earlier this month

The family of an American aid worker who died while in ISIS captivity said the prisoner swap deal that freed Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl from the Taliban last year hurt efforts to secure the release of their daughter.

Relatives of Kayla Mueller told NBC on Monday that her captors’ demands, which started with a $6.2 million ransom, increased after the White House exchanged five Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo Bay for Bergdahl, who had spent five years in captivity, Reuters reports.

“That made the whole situation worse, because that’s when the demands got greater,” Mueller’s brother Eric said. “They realized that they had something. They realized that, ‘Well, if they’re going to let five people go for one person, why won’t they do this? Or why won’t they do that?'”

The United States does not negotiate or pay ransoms to terrorist groups holding Americans hostage, like the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria. U.S. officials say the circumstances surrounding Mueller’s death are unclear; ISIS claims she was killed in a Jordanian air strike earlier this month. She was kidnapped 18 months before in northern Syria.

“The president is confident his administration did do everything that was possible within the confines of that policy, using our military might, using our intelligence capability, using our diplomatic influence, to try to secure the safe release and return of Kayla Mueller,” White House spokesperson Josh Earnest said.

[Reuters]

TIME Bowe Bergdahl

Guantanamo Detainee Exchanged for American POW Attempts a Return to Battle

Guantanamo Future
Charles Dharapak—AP A U.S. flag flies above buildings used for military tribunals for suspected terrorist prisoners at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base on Nov. 19, 2013.

A Taliban commander exchanged for the release of a POW attempts to return to the battlefield, raising questions about closing Guantanamo

When U.S. President Barack Obama agreed in May to exchange five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay for Bowe Bergdahl, a U.S. soldier who had been held captive for five years, his political opponents had a field day. They warned that the detainees risked returning to Afghanistan, and to militancy. Obama, with the backing of the government of Qatar that had agreed to host the men, promised that they would be kept far from the battlefield. Seems that the men may have had other ideas. According to CNN, U.S. military and intelligence officials now suspect that at least one of the detainees has made contact with Taliban associates in Afghanistan, suggesting that he, and perhaps the others, may be planning a return.

Considering that 29 percent of all U.S. detainees who were held in the Guantanamo detention center are either suspected of or confirmed to have returned to the fight, according to a March 2015 assessment by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, it shouldn’t be all that surprising. TIME’s Massimo Calabresi predicted as much back in June, just after Bergdahl was released. The recidivism rate, he wrote, “suggests that statistically at least one of the Taliban leaders will return to the field to fight Americans in Afghanistan, or elsewhere.”

At the time of the exchange, Taliban commanders who had been involved in Bergdahl’s capture, captivity and release, told TIME that the exchange — five of theirs for one of America’s — would encourage them to seek out more P.O.W.s. So far, that hasn’t happened. It’s not clear which of the five former detainees was reaching out to associates in Afghanistan, but as high-ranking commanders and former comrades-in-arms of Taliban leader Mullah Omar, any one of them could galvanize a movement that is slowly making gains in the wake of the U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan. Even if those plans have now been foiled, the incident may have one other far reaching consequence: as Obama attempts to close down Guantanamo for good, his opponents now have more ammunition for why he should not.

Read More: Behind the Scenes of Bowe Bergdahl’s Release

TIME Military

Bowe Bergdahl Questioning on Disappearance Set to Begin

Bergdahl Being Treated At U.S. Military Hospital In Germany
U.S. Army—Getty Images UNDATED - In this undated image provided by the U.S. Army, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl poses in front of an American flag. U.S. officials say Bergdahl, the only American soldier held prisoner in Afghanistan, was exchanged for five Taliban commanders being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to published reports. Bergdahl is in stable condition at a Berlin hospital, according to the reports. (Photo by U.S. Army via Getty Images)

Army investigators are expected to probe allegations of desertion from Wednesday

Army investigators will begin questioning Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl on Wednesday about the circumstances leading up to his disappearance from an Afghanistan observation post and eventual capture by Taliban militants in 2009.

Bergdahl’s attorney, Eugene Fidell, told NBC News that Bergdahl will report to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Tex., where he will face questioning about his motivations to leave his encampment, which led to five years of captivity at the hands of Taliban militants.

The Obama administration negotiated Bergdahl’s release in May in exchange for five senior Taliban prisoners. Some soldiers that served with Bergdahl in Afghanistan, including his former squad leader, have accused Bergdahl of deliberately abandoning his post. Investigators will determine whether the allegations are substantial enough to file charges of desertion.

Fidell, in a previous interview with TIME, cast doubt on the assertion that Bergdahl left his post with the intention of staying away, and even then, would not necessarily face charges of desertion. “It’s utterly discretionary as a matter of clemency, a matter of judgment, and indeed even as a matter of politics,” he said.

[NBC News]

TIME Military

Lawyer: Bergdahl ‘Deeply Grateful’ to Obama

Bergdahl Being Treated At U.S. Military Hospital In Germany
U.S. Army / Getty Images Bowe Bergdahl, who was held by the Taliban for nearly five years before being released in May.

Army sergeant held by Taliban believes President’s decision “saved his life,” his attorney Eugene Fidell tells TIME

No one’s heard anything yet from Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the former prisoner-of-war freed in a May 31 swap for five Taliban leaders after nearly five years as a Taliban prisoner. He hasn’t spoken to the press—by all accounts, he hasn’t even spoken to his parents. But, in typical American fashion, he has retained—and spoken to—an attorney.

“Sergeant Bergdahl is deeply grateful to President Obama for having saved his life,” Eugene Fidell, retained a week ago by the soldier, told TIME on Wednesday.

Fidell has traveled to Texas—where Bergdahl has returned to active duty at a desk job in San Antonio following his “re-integration” back into the service—to discuss with his client the investigation into the circumstances leading up to Bergdahl’s abduction in 2009. The attorney declined to offer any insights into Bergdahl’s mood, legal defense, or relationship with his family. Bergdahl also has an Army lawyer.

YaleEugene Fidell

But Fidell did suggest the case—now being investigated by a two-star Army major general—is more complicated than he originally thought. That’s saying something: Fidell is a prominent military-law expert who lectures at Yale Law School on the topic, and former president of the National Institute of Military Justice.

“Before I was in the case, I was skeptical that the investigation called for a major general,” Fidell says. “I thought that a talented lieutenant colonel would be more than enough horsepower—I thought it was overkill.” Army officials say Major General Kenneth Dahl has yet to interview Bergdahl.

Fidell said he has changed his mind as he has dived into the case. “Based on what I now know about the complexity of the issues, which are in a number of spheres that I’m not going to get into, I understand why the Army thought that a general officer should be involved,” Fidell adds. “I now understand why management thought that it was a good idea to have a two-star officer doing this investigation.”

The lawyer, who has taken the case pro bono—without pay—declined to discuss the specifics that led him to change his mind. But Bergdahl’s case is complex: according to the soldiers with whom he served, Bergdahl simply walked away from his combat outpost in June 2009 before being captured by the Taliban along the Afghan-Pakistan border. Some of those troops have called Bergdahl a deserter, and alleged that fellow soldiers died hunting for him.

Questions also surround the Army’s decision to allow Bergdahl to enlist, two years after he washed out of Coast Guard boot camp after only 26 days. And lawmakers on Capitol Hill have criticized Obama for giving up five senior Taliban leaders for Bergdahl, now 28.

Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., told TIME on Tuesday that he doesn’t believe the swap was in the nation’s interest. “We were duty bound to bring him back, but I think we’re duty bound to bring him back in the right way,” said the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s readiness subcommittee. “What other opportunities were there for us to secure Sergeant Bergdahl’s release besides releasing these five high-ranking Taliban officials?…we did increase the risk to Americans and American interests by releasing these five.”

Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said that Bergdahl is now free to come and go like any other soldier. “He’s free to leave base…he’s not under any particular restrictions,” Kirby said. “And I would remind you, he’s not been charged with anything.”

TIME Military

Bowe Bergdahl Returns to Active Duty

U.S. Army, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
U.S. Army/Getty Images U.S. Army, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

Following weeks of recovery abroad and in a Texas outpatient facility

Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is returning to active duty, the Army said Monday, after the soldier freed in a swap for Taliban leaders spent three weeks in an outpatient facility.

“Sgt. Bergdahl has completed the final phase of the reintegration process under the control of U.S. Army South and is currently being assigned to U.S. Army North, Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston (JBSA),” the Army said. “He will now return to regular duty within the command where he can contribute to the mission.”

Bergdahl was released after five years in Taliban captivity in May. Many ill and wounded troops are sent back to active duty during recovery, and Army officials are still continuing their probe into the circumstances of Bergdahl’s 2009 disappearance from his base in Afghanistan. Some soldiers have labeled him a deserter for that.

“The Army investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding the disappearance and capture of Bergdahl is still ongoing,” the Army said.

Bergdahl was returned to U.S. custody in exchange for the release of five Taliban leaders detained in Guantánamo Bay, provoking protests from Republicans and other critics of the deal. An Army investigation found he had deliberately left his post in Afghanistan in June 2009.

TIME Military

Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl Is Venturing Off Base as Part of Reintegration

Bowe Bergdahl
AP This undated photo provided by the U.S. Army shows Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl

Held captive by the Taliban for five years, he's now being reintegrated with society

Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, the prisoner of war in Afghanistan who recently returned to the U.S. after five years of captivity, is regularly going off post to dine, shop and do other chores, according to Lieut. Colonel Carol McClelland.

“He’s been doing it for at least a week,” the Army spokeswoman tells TIME, adding that it was a normal component of his reintegration into society. On visits to San Antonio, he has been accompanied by members of his reintegration team, including a psychologist, according to the Associated Press.

Bergdahl, 28, was shifted last week to outpatient care at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. He was freed by the Taliban on May 31 in a prisoner exchange for five senior Taliban officials held at Guantánamo Bay, and arrived in the U.S. on June 13. He was initially being treated in the U.S. at Brooke Army Medical Center.

As part of the reintegration process, the Army is increasing his exposure to people and social settings incrementally. It’s still unknown if his parents, who has asked for privacy since Bergdahl’s return, has visited their son.

The Army is still investigating circumstances surrounding Bergdahl’s departure from his outpost in June 2009 before his capture.

With reporting by Mark Thompson

TIME Military

Bowe Bergdahl Moves to Outpatient Care

Bergdahl Being Treated At U.S. Military Hospital In Germany
U.S. Army/Getty Images In this undated image provided by the U.S. Army, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl poses in front of an American flag.

Soldier freed in prisoner swap with Taliban continuing recovery

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has been moved from a hospital to an outpatient care facility in Texas, the military said Sunday, as he continues to recuperate from five years in Taliban captivity.

Bergdahl, who was released May 31 in a deal that also freed five Taliban leaders, was being treated at Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio but is now at an outpatient facility at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston. The military said Bergdahl is slowly being exposed to more people and increasing social interaction, with the hope that he can return to some semblance of normal life soon.

“His reintegration process continues with exposure to more people and a gradual increase of social interactions,” the Army said in a statement. “Debriefings and counseling from Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) psychologists continue to ensure he progresses to the point where he can return to duty.”

The Taliban captured Bergdahl in June 2009, after he intentionally left his outpost in Afghanistan in the middle of the night. Though many have called him a deserter, the Army is still investigating the circumstances of his departure from base.

TIME movies

Not One but Two Bowe Bergdahl Movies Are Already Being Planned

Bergdahl Being Treated At U.S. Military Hospital In Germany
U.S. Army/Getty Images In this undated image provided by the U.S. Army, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl poses in front of an American flag.

One is to be produced by the duo that gave us Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker; the other is based on a biographical article by late journalist Michael Hastings

It’s been only three days since Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl returned to the U.S. after nearly five years in a Taliban prison, and already Hollywood is seeking to capitalize on the surrounding controversy. The Hollywood Reporter confirmed on Monday night that two competing Bergdahl biopics are in the works.

The first comes from Mark Boal and Kathryn Bigelow, two filmmakers fairly seasoned in the craft of politically topical movies. Together, they wrote, directed and produced Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker, which collectively won seven Academy Awards.

Todd Field — In the Bedroom and Little Children — also has plans to direct and produce a Bergdahl film for Fox Searchlight, having acquired the rights to late journalist Michael Hastings’ 2012 Rolling Stone profile on “America’s last prisoner of war.”

Though the Hollywood Reporter describes the two projects as “competing,” there may be little overlap between them. Boal and Bigelow’s film is said to treat the issue of Bergdahl’s release by Afghan forces — in a controversial trade for five Taliban prisoners in U.S. custody — whereas Hastings’ Rolling Stone piece, the presumed basis for Field’s script, caters more to the 28-year-old’s backstory.

At this point, though, both projects still sit very much on the drawing board. Neither Boal and Bigelow nor Field have obtained Bergdahl’s “life rights,” and any biographical film produced without them may run into some development hurdles.

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