Bowe Bergdahl: US soldier held by Taliban says he was tortured and caged after escape attempt

US public has doubts about soldier’s story but John Kerry speaks out in support

The American hostage who was released by the Taliban last week in a controversial prisoner exchange has described how he was tortured, beaten and locked in a cage by his captors.

Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl has told US officials at the German military hospital where he is being treated that his five years in captivity included periods spent in total darkness inside a kind of shark cage following two escape attempts.

While his recollections may be unprovable, anything hinting at unusual suffering or humiliation during his time as a prisoner of war may help the pendulum of public and political opinion to swing back to him after it last week swung violently from initial applause for his release to queasiness and even opprobrium. 

The FBI reported that the soldier’s parents, who had been with President Barack Obama at the White House when he first made the release of their son public, have received death threats in recent days. The danger emerged shortly after their home town of Hailey, Idaho, cancelled a homecoming parade for their son because of the sudden uncertainty over his status as a hero.

On Sunday, John Kerry, the Secretary of State, spoke out vigorously in defence of the deal agreed to by President Obama, in which Sgt Bergdahl was handed over in return for the release from Guantanamo Bay of five Taliban detainees, who were transferred to Qatar, where they will be obliged to remain under surveillance for at least a year.

A growing band of Republicans but also some Democrats have berated the White House for agreeing to the prisoner-swap without consulting first with Congress, and questioned its wisdom – not least because of worries that the five men might return to Afghanistan and put US servicemen and women in danger once again. 

“I just think that’s a lot of baloney,” Mr Kerry said in an interview with CNN, noting the pending US withdrawal from the country.

At the same time some soldiers who served with Sgt Bergdahl have questioned the circumstances of his capture in June 2009, intimating that he wandered away from his platoon’s remote outpost of his own accord – that he, in effect, deserted. Some have said that the search for him thereafter led to the deaths of six US personnel. 

The plight of Sgt Bergdahl had been nagging at the Obama White House of years. There was once some hope that his release could be part of a broader bargain whereby the Taliban would sign a peace deal with the government in Kabul and renounce terrorism. But US leverage in the region has dwindled.

Mr Kerry yesterday echoed President Obama, asserting that abandoning Sgt Bergdahl was never an option. “It would have been offensive and incomprehensible to consciously leave an American behind, no matter what,” he said, adding that the Qatar government won’t be “the only ones keeping an on eye” on the five released Taliban.

Read more: Is Bergdahl's release a success story – or a scandal?

“I am not telling you that they don’t have some ability at some point to go back and get involved” in fighting the US, he conceded. “But they also have an ability to get killed doing that, and I don’t think anybody should doubt the capacity of the United States of America to protect Americans.”

Former Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain, who was himself a prisoner of war in Vietnam, said yesterday he agreed the US has to make every effort to secure the freedom of men left behind “but not at the expense of the lives or well-being of their fellow servicemen and women”. He added that “when we join the military, we know we take certain risks”.

Sgt Bergdahl remains at the military hospital at Landstuhl in Germany amid word that while his physical health is perhaps better than had been expected, he still has some psychological adjustments to make before he travels to the US, initially to a base in Texas where he would be reunited with his family. 

He has not yet spoken with his parents and has exchanged only one letter with a sister since being released.

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Performers dressed as Tunnocks chocolate teacakes, a renowned Scottish confectionary, perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
news
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Sport
Arsenal signing Calum Chambers
sportGunners complete £16m transfer of Southampton youngster
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior / Graduate Application Support Engineer

£26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...

QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

£35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

Property Finance Partner

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on