Top US diplomat Kerry defends soldier swap with Taliban

WASHINGTON: Secretary of State John Kerry defended Sunday the swap of five Guantanamo detainees for American Bowe Bergdahl, amid reports the captive US soldier was kept at times in a metal cage and in total darkness.

Kerry doubled down on President Barack Obama´s controversial decision to make the trade in exchange for the release of Bergdahl, who the top US diplomat said was at risk of being tortured by his captors.

“It would have been offensive and incomprehensible to consciously leave an American behind, no matter what, to leave an American behind in the hands of people who would torture him, cut off his head, do any number of things,” Kerry told CNN´s State of the Union program.

Bergdahl was released last Saturday to American troops in Afghanistan in exchange for the five Taliban detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Kerry made his remarks amid a news report Sunday about the grim conditions in which Bergdahl was held while a hostage in Afghanistan.

The New York Times wrote that the army sergeant has told medical officials that he was kept in total darkness in a metal cage for weeks, as a punishment for trying to escape.

Bergdahl, who is receiving medical treatment at an army facility in Landstuhl, Germany, is healing physically, but is still emotionally too fragile to be reunited with his relatives, said the daily, citing anonymous US officials who have been briefed on his condition.

“Physically, he could be put on a plane to the US tomorrow, but there are still a couple of mental criteria to address: the family unification piece and the media exposure piece,” said one US official who has been briefed on his condition told the Times.

The newspaper also reported that Bergdahl has had no access to news media and at present is unaware of the controversy raging in the United States about whether the administration put US security at risk by freeing the five Taliban inmates.

Kerry said the freed Taliban, who have been released to the government of Qatar, are unlikely go back on their word and take up the struggle again against the US.

“I´m not telling you that they don´t have some ability sought some point to go back and get involved. But they also have an ability to get killed doing that,” he told CNN.

“I don´t think anybody should doubt the capacity of the United States of America to protect Americans. Nobody.”The Times reported that Bergdahl, 28, has emerged from captivity physically in better condition than expected, although he suffers from skin and gum disorders typical of poor hygiene and exposure.
Meanwhile the FBI reported it was investigating threats to his relatives back home in Idaho.

“We are aware of the threats and are working with our local law enforcement partners to investigate,” FBI spokeswoman Jacqueline Maguire told AFP on Sunday, without providing details as to the nature of the threats.”As always, we take these types of threats seriously,” she said.