But a group of former soldiers defended the exchange and accused
lawmakers of stoking the furor over the prisoner swap for political
The Pentagon said Bergdahl, an Army sergeant, was improving at the
U.S. military hospital in Germany where he was being treated. A
spokesman acknowledged it was "going to be a long process." A senior
lawmaker confirmed reports Bergdahl had been kept in a cage while
held prisoner by the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Anti-war protesters, holding signs saying "Welcome Home Bowe" and
"U.S. Out of Afghanistan Now," gathered at the White House to
denounce the vilification of Bergdahl, who has been accused by some
of his former comrades of deserting before his capture.
Senior Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee emerged
from the hearing unswayed by administration attempts to justify the
decision to keep the prisoner swap from Congress until the exchange
Senator Jim Inhofe, the top Republican on the panel, said the
briefing by the deputy U.S. defense secretary and the No. 2
uniformed military officer did nothing to ease his concerns about
the move to send the Taliban leaders to Qatar, where they will
remain for a year under travel restrictions.
"I have every reason to believe that if they want to go back to the
fight, they will," Inhofe said.
Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, said the weight the
administration had put on the risk of releasing five senior Taliban
leaders was "wholly inadequate," and a committee in the
Republican-dominated House of Representatives moved to bar transfers
of detainees from Guantanamo.
Senator John McCain, himself a former prisoner of war, said it was
unfortunate "some 90 members of the administration" knew about the
deal to free Bergdahl but "not one member of Congress." The White
House disputed those figures, saying the number who knew about the
Bergdahl deal was even smaller.
A group of former U.S. soldiers accused lawmakers of vilifying
Bergdahl, using the case for political reasons to distance
themselves from President Barack Obama ahead of congressional
elections this year.
[to top of second column]
"Some of the harshest, most brutal attacks have been coming from our
own senators, senior senators," said Ann Wright, a retired Army
colonel and former State Department employee who resigned over the
"It really is a very sad statement ... when our congressional people
are doing this for their own political careers," said Wright, who
also accused the news media of "brutally, brutally attacking a young
soldier who has just been released from five years of captivity."
Brock McIntosh, a veteran of the Army National Guard who served in
the same area of Afghanistan as Bergdahl, said he thought it was
clear the soldier had reached his limit and needed care and healing
but the Army had given him no way out.
"Instead he ended up getting captured by the Haqqani network," said
McIntosh, who is active in the group Veterans for Rethinking
Afghanistan. "He spent five years in captivity ... and now he's
coming home to a country that is giving him death threats and hate
(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart and Steve Holland)
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