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US intelligence agents say Bergdahl was ‘gold mine’ of information after being freed by Taliban

October 31, 2017

Day four of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s sentencing hearings has taken place, and the hearings can be expected to continue for several more days.

On Tuesday, U.S. intelligence agents testified in military court that Bergdahl was a “gold mine” of information after being released. The accused deserter walked off his Afghanistan outpost in 2009 and was captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan and held captive for five years.

Bergdahl, now 31, pleaded guilty in October to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy after deserting his post. Bergdahl could face a life sentence.

Once released from captivity, the Army sergeant was “motivated” and eager to help intelligence officials, they testified on Tuesday.

The Associated Press on Tuesday reported:

Amber Dach, who spent 16 years in military intelligence, was the primary analyst assigned to Bergdahl’s case for the five years after he disappeared. She described how eager he was to help intelligence officials at a hospital in Germany days after he was returned to U.S. authorities. Though his voice was weak and raspy, he helped authorities and even drew diagrams in his downtime to bring to his next debriefing session.

Dach and another official who debriefed Bergdahl both testified that his time in Germany was extended partly so he could offer additional time-sensitive intelligence.

“He was very motivated to just download all of the details that he recalled,” she testified. “It was a gold mine. It really reshaped the way we did intel collection in the area.”

An official from the military agency that helps reintegrate former captives and develops survival training for service members testified that information Bergdahl provided him was invaluable.

Terrence Russell, a division chief for the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, developed a 1,200-page transcript from debriefing Bergdahl that was turned into a database. The information produced reports on tactics used by insurgents and hostage-takers in the region that are still used by the military.

Russell said he’d like to learn even more from Bergdahl but the soldier’s legal case has impeded that.

“Can you give him to me tomorrow? I need him. I need him now,” he said to a defense attorney. “The fact that I can’t get that information is wrong. I need that.”

He said he’d like to add Bergdahl to a roster of about 30 service members taken captive in recent conflicts dating to the Gulf War who can provide videos or lectures for military survival training.

“We don’t have very many examples coming out of Afghanistan,” he said.

He also reaffirmed his previous statements that Bergdahl’s captivity was worse than any American prisoner of war has experienced since the Vietnam era.

In an unexpected move, Bergdahl took the stand on Monday and gave a statement as part of his sentencing hearing.

He apologized to those service members who were wounded while searching for him after he walked off his Afghanistan outpost in 2009 was later captured by the Taliban, and held captive for five years. Bergdahl choked up at times during his statement on Monday, reports said.

Days one and two of his sentencing heard accounts from those service members who had been on the hunt for Bergdahl following his capture.

The military court judge heard last week from former Navy SEAL James Hatch and Army Capt. John Billings, Bergdahl’s platoon leader when he walked off post. He also heard from three other service members on day one of the sentencing hearings – Sgt. Evan Buetow, from Bergdahl’s unit; Col. Clinton Baker, Bergdahl’s battalion commander; and retired aviation Col. John White.

Hatch was shot in the leg during the mission to find Bergdahl after he left his outpost in Afghanistan in 2009.

Day two of testimony in the case of accused deserter Bergdahl heard more emotional recounts of horrifying injuries from service members who were on the team assigned to search for Bergdahl.

Jonathan Morita, who left the Army as a Sergeant, gave graphic testimony about how his hand was shattered by a rocket-propelled grenade during the search mission, which left it “dangling off” his arm at the time. After several surgeries, Morita is left without full use of his dominant hand.

Master Sgt. Mark Allen suffered a head wound during the ambush; he now is unable to speak and uses a wheelchair. National Guard Staff Sgt. Jason Walters submitted emotional testimony on Thursday about the moment Allen was hit, and then trying to dress Allen’s head wound. Allen’s wife was expected to testify Monday.

Col. Jeffery Nance, the military judge at Fort Bragg tasked with sentencing Bergdahl, said Monday that past comments from President Donald Trump about Bergdahl being a “traitor” would not affect his sentencing, and that Bergdahl would still get a fair sentencing.

Nance had delayed the hearing from Monday to Wednesday last week when the defense filed a last-minute motion over comments President Donald Trump had made in the past as a candidate, and again as President. The defense claimed Bergdahl would not receive a fair sentencing. The judge had said he was still considering the defense’s motion to dismiss the charges.

The Associated Press on Tuesday also reported:

On Monday, Bergdahl began the defense presentation by apologizing to those wounded searching for him. He also described the brutal conditions he faced, including beatings with copper wire and unending bouts of gastrointestinal problems brought on by squalid conditions. He said he was kept in a cage for four out of the five years in captivity after several escape attempts. He said his muscles became so weak he could barely stand or walk.

Russell, who’s debriefed more than 100 former hostages and prisoners of war, said Bergdahl’s time in the cage was damaging psychologically because he was kept in isolation nearly the entire time.

“They simply shut the door. Long-term isolation. Psychological abuse,” he said. “It was extreme neglect. They just let him nearly rot inside that cage for four years.”

The defense showed the court images of a replica of the cage that Russell’s agency built, using Bergdahl’s sketches. Russell uses it for survival training.

After Bergdahl left his post in 2009, he was held as a Taliban prisoner until 2014, when the Obama Administration was able to get him back to the United States through a prisoner swap. Bergdahl was released in exchange for five Guantanamo Bay detainees.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump said Bergdahl was “a dirty rotten traitor” for leaving his post and endangering the lives of others, and that he should “face the death penalty.” Five soldiers died while looking for Bergdahl.

A military judge in February ruled against dropping charges against Bergdahl after Bergdahl’s lawyers argued that comments made by Trump prior to the 2016 election violated their client’s due process rights.