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Fact-checking White House spin: Details of potential Bowe Bergdahl deal have been public for years

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The Obama White House said Thursday that Congress was not informed of a deal to release of five top-ranking Taliban leaders in exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl because it believed that the group holding the 28-year-old Idahoan would've killed him if details of the arrangement were leaked.

"Because of the nature of the folks that we were dealing with and the fragile nature of these negotiations, we felt it was important to go ahead and do what we did," Obama told reporters in Brussels on Thursday.

Added State Department spokesman Marie Harf: "There were real concerns that if this were made public first, his physical security could be in danger."

The White House feared, she said, that "someone guarding him that possibly wouldn't agree and could take harmful action against him. So, as we needed to move quickly, all of these factors played into that."

But details of the deal, which date back to at least 2011, have been public for some time and there's little to back the idea that Bergdahl's handlers would've acted against their interests and killed him had members of Congress repeated what was already public knowledge.

In fact, that’s probably why two Obama administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, confirmed Thursday that there was no "overt threat" to Bergdahl, but that intelligence officials somehow came to the conclusion that his safety would have been compromised had Congress found out about the deal.

"[S]enators were told, separate and apart from Sergeant Bergdahl's apparent deterioration in health, that we had both specific and general indications that Sergeant Bergdahl 's recovery -- and potentially his life -- could be jeopardized if the detainee exchange proceedings were disclosed or derailed," a third anonymous source said Thursday.

But here's something: The Associated Press reported in April that Bergdahl's captors were actually keen on releasing him.

"Elements in all echelons — from the top of the Taliban down to the folks holding Bergdahl — are reaching out to make a deal," yet another anonymous official said.

Now, it could be that Bergdahl’s handlers actually threatened to kill him if the White House leaked details of the deal to Congress. But it seems more likely that the bureaucratic nature of Washington garbled communications and longtime inter-agency feuds led to the confusion behind Bergdahl arrangement.

“About two dozen officials at the State and Defense departments, the military's U.S. Central Command, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Special Operations Command, the CIA and FBI are working the case — most of them doing it alongside their other duties,” the AP reported two months ago, adding that the efforts to secure Berghdahl’s release suffered from “disorganization and poor communication among numerous federal agencies.”

In fact, according to the same report, the terrorist group holding Bergdahl was left confused as to which Washington-based agency was authorized to strike a bargain.

In short, it appears that the Obama administration, after talking over itself and confusing the daylights out of Bergdahl's captors, decided that the terrorist group - in contrast to all previous behavior - would have killed a fine propaganda tool and bargaining chip if it leaked details of a deal that had been reported widely since Bergdahl was first captured in 2009.

And the White House waited five days to explain this after it first announced on Saturday that it had secured Bergdahl’s release.

It doesn’t really add up.

Nevertheless, the White House and its allies seemed willing Thursday to stick to the story that Bergdahl would have died either at the hands of his handlers or his poor health if the White House didn’t work with speed to secure his release.

“We all know that the president had a very short period of time to make a decision. He made a decision to bring him home, and I'm glad he did,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters Thursday. “Every day that he was there was a day a closer to his dying.”

But Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said this is flat-out untrue.

"I don't believe any of this," said Graham. "First, we had to do the prisoner deal because he was in imminent danger of dying. Well, they saw the video in January and they didn't act until June. So that holds no water. Now the argument is the reason they couldn't tell us is because it jeopardized his life. I don't buy that for a moment because he was a very valuable asset to the Taliban."

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T. Becket Adams

Commentary Writer
The Washington Examiner