By John Parkinson
Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl appeared drugged but not near-death in a proof-of-life video, several U.S. senators said this evening after a classified briefing where a clip was shown as part of a multimedia presentation by several senior administration officials at the Capitol.
“It appeared that [Bergdahl] was drugged, and that he was barely responsive in the video itself,” Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told reporters. “I don’t think from a health standpoint there was any issue that dictated the release of these five nasty killers in exchange for Bergdahl.”
Sen. Joe Manchin said he was not convinced that Bergdahl’s life was in danger based on what he saw on the video, which remains classified, particularly given his apparent condition shown in a video released by the Taliban who captured his transfer back to U.S. custody in Afghanistan Saturday.
“That did not sell me at all. The proof of life was basically five months ago. December? At that time he was impaired,” Manchin, D-W.V., said. “That is not the person that was released here. He was not in that type of dire situation when he was released.”
Administration officials have argued that Bergdahl’s health had deteriorated to the point where President Obama believed his immediate extraction was necessary, despite the legal requirement that Congress be notified 30 days in advance of the transfer of any Guantanamo detainees.
Manchin also raised questions about Bergdahl, 28, and his parents’ outreach and communication with the Taliban. “We all agree that we’re not dealing with a war hero.” he said. “We’re dealing with a soldier who should be looked in more extensively. There’s a lot to be answered here and there’s a lot of peculiar behavior that’s gone on between the family, this solider and his actions.”
Several senators who attending the classified briefing also said the administration officials failed to present a compelling case that the five Taliban will not re-enter the fight after they are able to leave Qatar next year. “I was not satisfied from the briefing that I received today that the conditions that they’ve agreed upon are sufficient to ensure that they won’t re-engage back in the fight against us and threaten either Americans or our allies in some way,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said.
“We have a 29 percent re-engagement rate from Guantanamo and I would argue that the conditions upon which these five detainees will be held is a real troubling aspect of this whole thing because four of them, at least, are very high-level members of the Taliban.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and potential candidate for president in 2016, said by negotiating with the Taliban, Obama has established a precedent that could encourage terrorists to kidnap soldiers in the years to come.
“The president has now set a precedent that will encourage enemies of the United States to target American men and women in uniform, to capture them in order to carry out some other exchange in the future,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., added. “There is no question that the president violated the law by not notifying Congress, but to me the most pressing challenge that we face is the fact that the president has now released five of the most dangerous individuals in Guantanamo, if not the five most dangerous.”
Manchin said he was also worried that the released detainees will re-engage the fight. “These are all high-level people. This is not low level,” he said. “These are people who basically have the ability to go back and hit the ground running, and we’re concerned about that.”
ABC News’ Ben Krolowitz and Benjamin Siegel contributed to this report.