By Kathleen Hennessey and Christi Parsons, Tribune Washington Bureau
A Pentagon spokesman says defense officials “have no reason to doubt” the authenticity of a newly released video that appears to show the calm and peaceful hand-off of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl by his Taliban captors to U.S. custody last weekend.
The 17-minute video, released to NBC News by what the network reported was a “known Taliban spokesman,” shows both sides quickly shaking hands before Bergdahl is handed over, patted down and helped into a U.S. helicopter for transport.
In a statement released Wednesday, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said the video showing the controversial handover was still being reviewed at the Pentagon.
“Regardless, we know the transfer was peaceful and successful, and our focus remains on getting Sergeant Bergdahl the care he needs,” Kirby said.
Bergdahl was released Saturday after five years of imprisonment and several months of negotiations. The Obama administration negotiated his freedom in exchange for the transfer to Qatar of five detainees from the detention center at Guantanamo Bay.
The swap has been criticized by Republicans who say the White House violated policy by releasing Guantanamo detainees without the required advanced notice to Congress.
The video opens with footage of the 28-year-old Bergdahl seated in a white truck, his head and face completely shaven, speaking with a man who at one point pats him on the chest.
Dressed in a white tunic with a blanket over his shoulders, Bergdahl blinks rapidly and wipes at his eyes as they wait for a helicopter to appear in the cloudy skies above.
The video then captures images of a U.S. helicopter coming into sight, circling and landing, and then of three men in dark clothing running out several yards to meet Bergdahl and the two men who accompany him.
One of Bergdahl’s escorts carries a white flag tied to a stick. Both escorts shake hands with the men before handing Bergdahl over to them. After leading Bergdahl back to the helicopter, the men pat him down.
The video then shows the helicopter disappearing into the sky, and closes with a superimposed message — misspelled and uncapitalized, but clear: “Don’ come back to afghanistan.”
Photo via AFP