Return to Transcripts main page
New Taliban Video Shows Bergdahl Release; Bergdahl's Condition; Bergdahl's Character Being Examined
Aired June 4, 2014 - 08:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Time now for the five things you need to know for your new day.
At number one, the Taliban releasing new video of the moment Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was freed. This as the Army launches a review to determine whether he deserted his post back in 2009.
With the controversial release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl following him, President Obama is headed to Brussels for a summit with the G-7 group. Earlier today he was in Poland and met with the Ukrainian president-elect.
Severe weather plummeting the Midwest with nearly a dozen reports of tornadoes across several states. Heavy winds, rain and even baseball- sized hail hitting parts of Nebraska and Iowa.
An attorney for one of the 12-year-old girls accused of stabbing her friend 19 times says that she should be tried in juvenile court so she can get the help she needs. Police say the two accused girls attacked their friend trying to impress a fictional character called Slenderman.
The Republican Senate primary in Mississippi appears headed for a runoff. The race between incumbent Thad Cochran and challenger Chris McDaniel still too close to call. Neither has the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff.
We always update those five things to know, so be sure to go to newdaycnn.com for the very latest.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, thanks, Mic.
The new video of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl's transfer is a rare look at this kind of special op. It comes as the Army is launching a, quote, "comprehensive review" to figure out how Bergdahl got into enemy hands in the first place. Is he a deserter? Would that matter? Let's take a look at it ourselves. Let's bring in Matthew Farwell. He's a writer for "Rolling Stone" magazine, and a veteran who served in Afghanistan. In fact, in the same area as Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. He contributed reporting to a 2012 report on this man and this issue that ran in "Rolling Stone." It is really worth a read. It's about as deep as we had on this so far. Let's also bring in Keith Stansell. Now, he was held hostage for five and a half years himself by a Colombian militant group.
Keith, thank you for joining us.
Matt, good to have you back on the show.
KEITH STANSELL, FORMER FARC HOSTAGE: You're welcome. Good morning, Chris. Great to be here.
CUOMO: Keith, you've had a chance to see this video, yes?
STANSELL: Yes, I have.
CUOMO: All right. So we'll roll it for the people at home. When you look at him, what do you see in terms of condition and things that the rest of us may miss in terms of how someone feels in a moment like this?
STANSELL: For me, it's his eyes. His eyes look to me that he's in bad shape. You know, many of us, when we came out, some of us were heavy, some of us were emaciated. But the eyes kind of tell our health at all times. We all (INAUDIBLE) each other in the jungle that way. And there's many things underneath that you can't see that aren't apparent to the cameras. But looking at him in the back of the truck at his eyes, he does not look good.
CUOMO: Do you think -- what do you attribute it to without more information? Do you think it's dust? Do you think he was blindfolded? Or do you think he's blinking as a sign of stress? What's your take?
STANSELL: I don't know. I'm not a doctor. But what I can tell you is my experience with us in the jungles, we call these marches we'd go on death marches. And the first thing that you would be see it (ph) will be days with low food intake as we were being marched around the jungle and our eyes would sink back and they would get dark around the edges and it kind of told the health. But he's got to be under tremendous stress, also.
And we all react in different ways to stress in the jungle. I tended to lose a lot of weight. Some people would gain. But it's the eyes. He does not look good there. And it's got to be the stress, though, I would imagine. But then again, I'm not a doctor, but that's an indicator for us when I was in captivity.
CUOMO: It's interesting, he's seen carrying a bag also. I wonder if they let him take personal effects with him. That would be interesting to find out what that is.
And the moment, Keith, of being turned over, it would easy to be -- to think, wow, he must be just so overjoyed. This is so great. But is it a mix of emotions?
STANSELL: It's a mix of emotions. It's a mix of joy. It's a mix of fear. You can see he's nervous. Like I say, you know, you're going from where you don't make a decision for yourself and now somebody says, OK, get up, walk, you're free, you can go. It's hard to take that step. It's hard to make that decision. Although to somebody that hasn't been in captivity, it sounds foreign. But he's been under control for five years. Every movement, whatever he does, has been monitored and dictated for him. So, for now, for him to just take those first couple of steps free, and I was watching how he seemed a little unstable. He's walking back and forth. It's really a scary thought. It's almost like a young child for the first time getting to walk outside. It's a scary moment, although very happy, it's scary.
CUOMO: And for us watching this video, it is the end of this. Look, there he is being brought back. For him, it's just the beginning, true?
CUOMO: All right, Keith, thank you for your take on this. Appreciate it.
Matt, I want to turn to you now.
MATTHEW FARWELL, WRITER, "ROLLING STONE": OK.
CUOMO: There's a lot of speculation, politically but also just practically in terms of, well, how did this all begin.
CUOMO: Many members of his platoon, the guys he was with there, are saying he walked off, he deserted.
CUOMO: You reported this as deeply as anybody. Do you believe there is proof of that?
FARWELL: Well, as we reported in the article two years ago, it's clear that he walked off the post. Whether that means he deserted, that's a question of intent.
CUOMO: So you don't believe there's any chance in the reporting that he was taken from the base itself?
FARWELL: No, I don't believe so. Some of the initial reports that were coming out were contradictory saying that he had been kidnapped off a latrine and or lagged behind on a patrol. But those seem to be just fog of war type issues and don't have any basis in reality.
CUOMO: Leaving his weapon, his pack, all of his supplies, what does that say to you?
FARWELL: I mean it was a bad area of Afghanistan. I know the area intimately. I know that exact place that he was at. And I wouldn't have been wanting to walk around without a weapon. And apparently from what we know he took a bottle of water, a knife, his Kindle, and that's about it, a notebook and a camera. CUOMO: The supporting proof, in quotes, that he had been writing e- mails and things saying, I'm going to leave, I'm going to go, I'm going to -- this is my good-bye note, do you believe any of that stands up?
FARWELL: Well, I mean, Michael and I were the only ones that have seen those e-mails and read them and I don't think they deliberately said that he was going to leave, but they indicated that something was clearly troubling this soldier and clearly going wrong.
CUOMO: He wouldn't be unique in that regard, would he?
FARWELL: No, absolutely not. I mean I served 16 months in that area and there were times that I got fed up. And you can see from the video reporting that Shawn Smith (ph) of "The Guardian" did of that unit in the months prior that that unit seemed to have morale problems, seemed to have discipline problems and seemed to have leadership problems.
CUOMO: The speculation that he was giving information to the Taliban as evidence by more precise and more frequent hits thereafter, did that bear out in your reporting?
FARWELL: You know, we didn't really come across that too much in our reporting. And I can't really speak to that, but I can say that he was a private first class. He was a low-level grunt, you know, which I was when I was there, too. And I didn't know much beyond what I was going to do that day and how to keep my weapon clean and my Humvee operating.
CUOMO: So we're going to have guys who are going to come on the show after the break and they served with him and they are going to say that they have really good reason to believe that he deserted. You're saying exercise some caution, there's more that needs to be known.
FARWELL: I would exercise a little bit of restraint. And with respect to those soldiers, they've, you know, had to bottle this up for five years.
CUOMO: Because they were forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement -
FARWELL: For -
CUOMO: Which is unusual in the military.
FARWELL: Which is completely unusual. I mean a brigade-wide non- disclosure agreement for 3,500 troops to not talk about their deployment, that's un-American, frankly, and I think that's a huge leadership failure in the Army, in the military. I mean you had Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, flying out there two weeks after this happened to visit with members of the platoon. For me, that indicates that, you know, they wanted this hushed up and wanted it hushed up good.
CUOMO: Matt Farwell, a piece in "Rolling Stone" from 2012, easy to find online, worth the read, thank you for joining us and thank you for your service. FARWELL: Thank you, sir.
CUOMO: Keith Stansell, thank you very much. We're going to need your help going forward as we understand the reintegration process. Always good to see you, brother. Thank you for being here.
STANSELL: Always a pleasure.
CUOMO: We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, we will have those fighting men who served with Bowe Bergdahl and their take on how he wound up being captured.
CUOMO: Welcome back to NEW DAY.
We know now that Bowe Bergdahl was released. It's in this breaking video we've been bringing to you all morning. But what we don't know is how he was captured in the first place. Did he walk off the battlefield? Did he walk into enemy hands? Did he just desert? Did this just go wrong? We need perspective and we're going to get it right now from two men who may be best positioned to answer the question. They were Bergdahl's former team leader, U.S. Army Sergeant Evan Buetow, and he was there the night Bergdahl vanished in 2009, as well as retired Private First Class Jose Baggett (ph), who served time at the same operating post with Bergdahl in Afghanistan and they were not part of the same platoon, but they were part of the same community and knew each other.
Gentlemen, thank you for joining us and thank you for your service.
EVAN BUETOW, SGT. BOWE BERGDAHL'S FORMER TEAM LEADER: Thank you for having me.
CUOMO: So, Sergeant - oh, it's a pleasure.
Sergeant, let's start with you. Give us your best sense of who Bowe Bergdahl was so we can kind of understand where he was coming from in this situation.
BUETOW: What I know of Bowe is he was a little bit of -- a little odd. Being in the infantry, we have an incredibly tight brotherhood. We all hang out together, drink together, you know go out to dinner -- you know everything -- I mean we do everything together. He was somewhat of an outcast, not that we casted him out, but he just kind of stayed away from that.
He had no cell phone. He had no -- he didn't watch movies. He didn't watch TV. He just read books. He was studying several languages prior to deployment.
He was just a little odd. He was really quiet, very methodical in his thinking and the way he talked. However, he was a good soldier at the same time. He always wanted to learn more. He always wanted to be -- know everything we were doing, how all of our battle drills, he studied and studied and studied. He didn't just want to know how. He wanted to know why we did these things. Why do we do this? How do we do this and why do we do that. As a team leader, it was actually very refreshing to have a soldier who was that committed to the job that we were about to go do in Afghanistan.
CUOMO: Jose, you weren't on his team, but you mixed with him in different situations there at the post. What was his reputation?
JOSE BAGGETT, U.S. ARMY: Same I heard -- from what I've heard from him, I was in a separate platoon -- I was in third platoon. He was quiet -- he's a quiet guy. Before we got deployed, never heard about him getting in trouble or anything. I heard people say comments like he was a sponge, and he liked to take in as much information as he could. Never heard about him getting in trouble or anything like that. I mean me being in a different platoon, he was definitely off my radar.
CUOMO: All right. So Sergeant let's get to what matters here. The idea of how he left -- you know, the population. How he wound up finding his way off post, you believe he deserted. Why?
BUETOW: Well, I kind of want to paint a small picture here of the O.P. we were at. It was a very small O.P. probably -- maybe two acres at the biggest. No walls, no gate -- nothing like that. We had some wire. Some of the O.P. didn't even have wire that was surrounding it. We had a couple bunkers on a hilltop, and the rest of our guard was pulled out of our trucks that we would kind of fan out, so we had that 360-degree security.
The morning he walked away -- the early morning he walked away, we got a call on the radio saying an OP-2 which is the call sign for the bunker that I happened to be in at the time, they said, "Hey OP-2, is Bergdahl up there?" I said "No, he's not here." It came out over the radio. They said, "Hey anybody here at O.P. -- has anyone seen Bergdahl? Has anyone seen Bergdahl? Everyone kind of responded throughout saying no, we don't know where he's at, we don't know where he's at.
It didn't take long to look through the whole base -- not base -- the O.P. we were at, it didn't take long to search it. There wasn't very much area to check. We talked to the Afghan national army who was also there with us. There was a small group of them with us. We talked to them.
Bergdahl spent a lot of time with the Afghan national army soldiers who were there, talked to them and drank chai with them and hung out with them a lot.
CUOMO: I know you think there was a lot of stream of suggestion from the Afghan side that you guys could desert, that they could get you over to Pakistan. I know you talked about that. Do you believe that that was something that was motivating Bergdahl?
BUETOW: Are you saying motivated Bergdahl to get to Pakistan? CUOMO: You know, like that there was suggestion, you can leave here if you want, if you're not happy. You can just leave. There was that kind of chatter. Do you think he was susceptible for that?
BUETOW: I don't know of any chatter that anyone would say it's OK if you just want to walk away.
CUOMO: I know it's not OK. I know it's not OK. I'm saying what do you think was his state of mind is what I'm saying?
BUETOW: I believe that he wanted to walk away, and the evidence after him walking away, it proves that he had somewhat of an agenda. In the days, the hours following when he left and the assets that we had on station, we picked up radio communications, and I was standing right there when it came out. There's an American in Yaya Cale (ph) which was a village that was just a couple miles away from where we were at, he was looking for someone who speaks English so he can talk to the Taliban.
I heard that right out of -- over the radio, an interpreter interpreted what was said and I was standing right there when I heard it. At that point it's like -- yes, he just walked away. Apparently he has an agenda now. That's all we knew at that point and then the whole -- the search kind of evolved from there.
CUOMO: Jose, if it is true that that's how this came to happen, that Bergdahl intentionally walked off, basically deserted, do you think that changes the analysis of whether or not he should have been saved in this deal?
BAGGETT: Well, of course he needs to be saved. He's an American soldier. We never leave anybody behind. The truth is that he did desert. It's not if he did or not, it's what happened. That's the truth.
We're never going to leave anybody behind. With that being said, you know, it's good to have one of our soldiers back, but he did leave on his own as well.
CUOMO: And Sergeant, just to finish it, what do you want people to know about this situation when they're assessing whether or not this was a good deal or bad deal, what's your take?
BUETOW: My take is, bottom line, Bergdahl is not a hero.
BUETOW: He is not an example. He did not serve with honor and he did not serve with dignity. The fact that we got him back, that's great. He is an American citizen, he is still at this time -- he's an American soldier and we do need to get him back.
Do I believe what we gave up is a little much for what we got back? In my opinion, yes. We gave up a lot for what we got back. I'm not here to talk about any political agenda or anything like that. That's a totally different issue. They know way more than I do.
We got an American back and that's a victory, a small victory. However, the truth is he deserted. He went to seek out the Taliban and he's not a hero. And people need to know that. People need to know he did not serve with honor, he did not serve with dignity.
BAGGETT: It's the people that died looking for him like Lieutenant Andrews and Matthew Martinek and all the other ones -- everybody that went searching for him that got hurt, those are the real heroes, people who did something influential. Not someone who just deserted their company and their platoon.
CUOMO: I understand where you guys are coming from. Thank you again for your service and thank you for talking with us and sharing your perspective on NEW DAY. Appreciate it.
BUETOW: Thank you for having us, Chris.
BAGGETT: Thank you.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: Coming up next on NEW DAY, officials are breaking down the new Bergdahl video frame by frame. What do they hope to learn? That's coming up next.
BOLDUAN: Welcome back.
Military officials are reviewing, breaking down this new video of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl's handover that was released this morning. What can be learned from these dramatic new images coming in?
Let's go to Washington and bring in chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto to discuss. Jim -- you have unique perspective. You have embedded with Special Forces before in Iraq in 2003. This is -- you do not often see Special Forces in action like this.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: You don't. That was certainly a unique opportunity at the time. They are very sensitive about being put on film. I had another action with them in Afghanistan where I caught them in action on tape. They were not happy about it. In fact they took our tape away and destroyed it.
So you know, that's the typical level of sensitivity. So as you're looking at this tape now, you can glean some things from it that are indicative. Look at the way they're dressed, the Special Forces soldiers. They're not in uniform. They've got a T-shirt on. They're wearing a Middle Eastern scarf. One of them you can see has a beard.
They run by their own rules. They have their own helicopters, stealth helicopters. They have their own way of doing things. I remember when I was embedded with them that they were not dependent, for instance, on MREs. They would live off the land, they would locally supply food. That was just part of their way of doing things. They didn't need as much support as other troops, much more independent.
Other things -- lots of interaction with local fighters; the Special Forces do a lot of training with Afghan forces. They connect with the tribal leaders, et cetera. They build relationships on the ground. That's again part of their standard operating procedure. They use that to their advantage.
You saw there as they interacted with the Taliban fighters, the enemy, of course, in this case, one of them was communicating in their language it appeared there. The other one, they shook hands, they gave a sign of respect. One of them holding his right hand up to his heart as a sign of respect as they were making the exchange.
All of this indicative of the way they do things, again, gives us and our viewers a very rare view of the most elite, most highly trained, the most secretive Special Forces at work here.
BOLDUAN: Absolutely. And also, as we're looking at the video right now, you get these rare glimpses really -- you're getting to see Bowe Bergdahl, wiping his eye there. You see him blinking rapidly. You're finally getting a look at this man that they've been searching for, for five years.
SCIUTTO: Yes and seeing him -- you know, when we've seen him so far, we've seen him in these highly produced videos from the Taliban in captivity, where he's either been reading statements, this kind of thing, probably statements provided to him.
Now you can see him here in a very vulnerable moment. He may not know what's happening. He may have an indication he's being handed over. But I'm sure there's fear, will it actually happen. His eyes blinking -- are those tears? Are his eyes irritated from the light, from dust maybe kicked up by the helicopter -- an extremely vulnerable moment for him.
It's also our chance to see him in light of what we knew earlier this year that those proof of life videos that came out at the end of last year as we reported in January, showed U.S. military experts who are examining him that his health was in decline. Now we see him, and we can get a sense. He appears thinner. He was able to walk, but you need a military doctor to look at that and say, OK, what can we learn from that.
Because for instance, we've heard as he's arrived in Landstuhl that one of the issue for him has been nutritional issues. What has he been eating? How has his body reacted to that?
But, you know, it's interesting to see him there. He does look different for sure for when he disappeared those five years ago. But he does look functioning. He was able to walk under his own power. That's indicative as well.
BOLDUAN: And real quick, just a final note, I mean this is -- when you look at the translation of the narration over this video, at one point the narration says when they landed they were too afraid and worried that they should hands only with two people. It's important to point out that the Taliban when they released this -- they're also using this for serious propaganda.
SCIUTTO: Absolutely. You have the music over it. You have them interacting with America's most elite forces in getting five Taliban fighters in return. They wouldn't release this video if they didn't think it was a victory. There was this message at the end of the video up on screen saying don't return to Afghanistan, you know, a bold, angry threat.
BOLDUAN: Jim Sciutto in Washington. Jim -- thank you very much.
Really, the coverage of this extraordinary video only beginning. The news continues now with Carol Costello.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks a lot, Kate. Have a great day.
"NEWSROOM" starts now.
Happening now in the "NEWSROOM", moment of release.