Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is physically well despite nearly five years as a Taliban captive, but confinement in a small space and other harsh treatment has left him psychologically unstable, a senior U.S. official briefed on his medical treatment said Monday
Bergdahl is “struggling with psychological issues” that his doctors are hoping to ease before they agree to send him from Germany, where he is being treated in a U.S. military hospital, to another facility in Texas, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss Bergdahl’s condition.
Bergdahl otherwise is being treated for minor gum and skin ailments. He has been under doctors’ care since he was released in eastern Afghanistan on May 31 in a trade for five Taliban prisoners from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The prisoner exchange has set off a fierce debate in Washington about whether the White House gave up too much for Bergdahl and whether Obama should have consulted Congress before agreeing to release the detainees.
Bergdahl’s health appears far less dire than White House officials initially portrayed it. After his release, officials said they acted swiftly, in part, because his health appeared in jeopardy.
An initial Army investigation concluded that Bergdahl left his remote base in eastern Afghanistan without permission in June 2009. His motive remains unclear.
Bergdahl was subject to abuse at times during his years in captivity, but U.S. officials stopped short of calling his mistreatment torture.
He told doctors that “he was for a period kept in a small, confined space” after being recaptured following an escape attempt, the official said
“The treatment was harsher at some points than at others,” the official said. “Physically, he’s in good shape but psychologically, they are still working with him to get him ready to fly” to the U.S.
The 28-year-old soldier has so far declined to call his parents, has not responded to a letter written to him by his sister, and prefers to be referred to as private first class — the rank he held before his capture — rather than as sergeant, the official said.
“He feels he hasn’t earned it,” the official said of his promotion to sergeant, which was made while Bergdahl was a captive.
The official said that Bergdahl may telephone his parents, Bob and Jani Bergdahl, at any time. His decision not to do so is not considered unusual for a prisoner who was under strict control of others for nearly five years, the official said.
Bergdahl is at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany undergoing a reintegration procedure for former prisoners that can last as long as five weeks. When he is deemed healthy enough to travel, Bergdahl will be moved to the San Antonio Military Medical Center for further treatment.