Feinstein rejects administration claim of ‘credible threat’ to Bergdahl

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) threw another jab at the Obama administration by dismissing its claim that the Taliban would have killed Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl had news of his release leaked early.

“No, I don’t think there was a credible threat,” Feinstein told Bloomberg’s Al Hunt on Friday when asked about the claim by senior administration officials that Bergdahl would have likely been executed had it been revealed he was set to be traded for five Taliban militants.

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During a classified briefing Wednesday, administration officials cited the threat to Bergdahl’s life as a reason they did not give senior members of Congress advanced notice about the pending release of prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.

Feinstein said it was clear from past negotiations that the Taliban’s leadership was so eager to free five of its commanders from the detention camp that they would not have risked Bergdahl’s life, their biggest bargaining chip.

She said the same prisoner exchange was discussed as part of preliminary peace talks in 2011.

“We were brought in, in November 2011, when this was part of a bigger effort.  And that bigger effort was a reconciliation with the Taliban. And this was proposed as a confidence building measure,” she said of the five-for-one prisoner exchange that was first floated several years ago. 

“Well, it was very clear at the time that the Taliban really want these five back. And of course history has verified that,” she added.

Feinstein told reporters earlier in the week that the administration proposed trading the five Taliban commanders at Gitmo for Bergdahl in 2011 as part of peace talks and that she and other senior lawmakers were nearly unanimously opposed.

She argued Friday that the Taliban’s persistence in seeking to free its leaders from the camp, including Mohammad Fazl, the chief of staff of the Taliban army, suggests they would not have squandered their leverage by killing Bergdahl.  

Feinstein also questioned whether Bergdahl’s life was in serious jeopardy despite a short video administration officials showed to senators during a classified briefing depicting the American POW in apparent poor health.

"Well, that’s hard for me to tell. I don’t think that was — had a clear distinction in the briefing we’ve had,” she said.

Feinstein said there was “no question” that Bergdahl was under stress.

“I don’t know, but he’ll receive very good care and recover, and I think that’s what’s important," she said.

Senators who watched the classified video said Bergdahl was stammering and incoherent when it was shot in December. They say he appeared to be in much better health in a recently released video clip of his handoff to American special forces.

Feinstein also addressed accusations by Bergdahl’s former platoon mates that he deserted his post in Paktika Province before falling into the Taliban’s hands.

“I think, from what I know, that it’s kind of missed,” she said. “But, nonetheless, he’s an American soldier. He was lost, he was taken hostage. Whether he walked away, AWOL, meaning temporary, or permanently, meaning desertion, the army will figure that out.”

She said James “Sandy” Winnefeld Jr., the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has promised lawmakers that the Army will investigate the circumstances of Bergdahl’s capture.

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