Return to Transcripts main page


American soldier Bowe Bergdahl Freed from Taliban Captivity; David Rohde Who's Been Held by Taliban, Talks about His Experience of Getting Freedom; Hurricane Season Started for the U.S.; Dr. Ludwig about Possible Challenges for Bowe Bergdahl and his Family

Aired June 1, 2014 - 06:30   ET


CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, I hope Sunday's been good to you so far. I'm Christi Paul.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Victor Blackwell. Thanks for staying with us this morning. American soldier Bowe Bergdahl, the big story this morning, he was held captive by the Taliban for just short of five years. This morning he is a free man.

PAUL: No shots were fired, there was no violence, this according to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, just a while ago, but 18 Taliban fighters handed Bergdahl over to U.S. Special Forces and he was released in exchange for five Guantanamo Bay detainees.

BLACKWELL: Now, once in U.S. custody, Bergdahl was taken by helicopter for medical evaluation to Bagram air field, the main U.S. Base in Afghanistan. According to a senior U.S. official, Bergdahl used a paper plate to communicate because the rotor in the helicopter was so loud. He wrote the letters "SF?" and then a question mark, shorthand for "Special Forces", one of the U.S. commandos didn't bother writing down "Yes." He shouted "Yes, we've been looking for you for a long time." Bergdahl realized he was safe and then he broke into tears.

PAUL: The terms of the agreement, which began last week, apparently, were negotiated with the help of the Qatari government. And five Guantanamo Bay detainees released in exchange are due to arrive there in Qatar. Today, we understand. These are their photos. I want to just point out, they were obtained by WikiLeaks and that matched the names released by the Department of Defense. The Department of Defense will not confirm nor deny the accuracy, but Qatari officials are assuring the U.S. that these five men you're looking at will not become a terror threat and they will not even travel out of Qatar for a year.

BLACKWELL: CNN correspondent Richard Quest joins us now on the phone from Doha. Richard, you were just at a meeting of the officials. What did they say? What is the latest there?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The foreign minister of Qatar, Dr. Khalid Al Attiyah, refused to give any details in any blatant detail of the country's involvement in the exchange. What he did say was that the foreign minister was, Qatar was able to be involved because it enjoyed the confidence of all parties. In other words, the Taliban and, of course, it's an extremely close ally of the United States. The foreign minister said when Qatar takes on such a task it bases it on basic foreign policy of humanitarian considerations, and interestingly, he said that negotiations had been mandated and directed by the mayor of Qatar, the mayor who only took office last year, so clearly it's very important for the Qataris to have played this role, but it is also exceptionally sensitive, putting them right in the middle of such a difficult and tricky issue.

PAUL: Well, you're right, and Richard, you know, Representative Mike Rodgers from Michigan took issue with this saying he has little confidence in the security assurances regarding the movement and activities of the now released Taliban leaders. It makes us wonder, you know, what were those security assurances that were given and how is Qatar going to keep tabs on these five men?

QUEST: And that is exactly what they refused to say this morning. I asked again. I said under what conditions would these five returning detainees be kept? And they said, we are not giving any details out. But here's the issue, of course, the U.S. has little choice, but to take on trust which Qatar has promised, but the U.S. will obviously have a huge interest in monitoring as best they can here. The relationship between Qatar and the United States is one of the closest both militarily, and cannot be - Qatar has been a strong ally of the United States. It was here during the Gulf War, of course, that Central Command was based in the earlier years. So all in all, yes, a lot has been placed on trust, but it really comes down to, if you want the deal, this is the deal that had to be done.

PAUL: All right. Hey, Richard Quest, thank you so much for taking some time to talk with us today and give us the latest from there. We appreciate it.

QUEST: So today is June 1st and for folks in the southeast, Florida, Texas, Louisiana, you know what June 1st means. Start of Atlantic hurricane season. Hurricanes, tropical storms, much more, hopefully not too many of them. We'll break down what kind of weather experts are predicting.

PAUL: And back to Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, he's heading back to U.S. territory after five years in captivity. We're talking about the emotional challenges he's going to have ahead as the former prisoner heads home.


PAUL: 39 minutes past the hour. It is good to see you this morning. We want to let you know that there's been an arrest in last week's fatal shooting at the Jewish Museum in Brussels. Authorities say police have arrested a suspect in Marseille, France. Two Israelis died in that attack, and the French fomented as well. Images from the museum show the gunman, look at this, opening fire, though. We do know a museum worker was also injured. A motive for that attack is still what is not known, but police say they haven't ruled out terrorism.

BLACKWELL: President Obama kicks off his week by traveling to Poland tomorrow to participate in G-7 meetings on the global economy and climate issues. He'll also meet with the president-elect of Ukraine. The two are expected to, of course, talk about the country's ongoing crisis. Also, later in the week the president moves on to France, where he'll deliver remarks to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the allied landing in Normandy.

PAUL: Does anybody else feel like you just blinked and it was June 1st?

BLACKWELL: All of a sudden.

PAUL: What happened? What happened? And you know, June makes its mark usually with hurricane season.

BLACKWELL: Yes, it's bad news there. Good news is it's expected not to be so extreme this season. CNN meteorologist Alexandra Steele joins us now. Good news for the folks down the southeast, not so extreme.

ALEXANDRA STEELE, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, that's right, but, you know, actually the bottom line is, the numbers don't matter how many we have or don't have. It's just the one that makes landfall that does matter. So here's a look as an aggregate, today is June 1st and we go through November 30TH for the Atlantic hurricane season. NOAA is predicting a below average season. Now, last season was actually the least active in decades, only two hurricanes and last year we had no major hurricanes, and the last time that had happened prior was 1994. So here's a few reasons as to why the expectation and using computer models that we're expecting a low or below average season because we are having a developing El Nino, you remember those words, right? It's warmer waters in the cross of Central Pacific and what happens with those warmer waters they essentially change the wind pattern. So, what we are going to develop are very strong westerly winds, which sheer off the path of any tropical development and not allow it to grow and become a hurricane. So, that's essentially what the warming of the waters with an El Nino does.

All right, here is a look - here are the names, you can see, starting with Arthur. Now, it's the world meteorological association the WMO who has these names. Now, there's six lists and they get used every six years. And, of course, you get a name retired like a Katrina, if something does so much damage, it would be disrespectful to use again. And actually, during World War II they only used women's names, but in 1978 they started including men's names with that. So the peak is certainly not in June, it is not until August into September so we have a far way to go. But just kind of today is the beginning of the season, kind of some interesting nuggets about what we're expecting for the season ahead and, of course, also, we'll talk about the forecast. This is where the development is for June, you guys. But again, things are all quiet now. Weather wise here in the United States, pretty quiet, too. We're going to see a warm-up in the northeast, so it's pretty cool the last couple of days. Things are warming up really nicely during the next couple of days. Back to you.

BLACKWELL: Quiet is good.


BLACKWELL: Alexandra Steele thank you.

PAUL: So, a former "New York Times" reporter held captive by the Taliban tells CNN about his release. And what Bowe Bergdahl may be going through right now. This is fascinating.

BLACKWELL: And, you know, he's also going to talk about this long road to recovery we know is ahead for Sergeant Bergdahl. I will ask a psychotherapist as well about what's ahead for him and his family.


BLACKWELL: After nearly five years being held captive by the Taliban, Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is now heading home to American territory.

PAUL: He is - you can't even imagine what his experience has been like for five years. We know that the Defense Department is saying he was alone without any other Americans. Bergdahl's father says he's even having some difficulties speaking English now.

BLACKWELL: As much as people would like to empathize, very few people know what Bergdahl went through, actually know what it was like day after day, year after year. But Alexandra Field sat down with one man who relates to Bergdahl's experience quite clearly. Alexandra, what did you learn?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christi, Victor, held captive for five years, that's the fate most of us cannot imagine. It was reality for Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl and his freedom must now feel something like a dream. We spoke today (ph) to a former "New York Times" reporter who was kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2008. He was moved to Pakistan and held for seven months before he managed to escape, scaling a wall and running for his life. He tells us Sergeant Bergdahl has been constantly in his thoughts and he's giving us an insight into what Bergdahl is likely experiencing right now.

DAVID ROHDE, "NEW YORK TIMES": He doesn't believe it's real. He's probably afraid to believe it's real. There's this great anecdote about him writing "SF" on the plate on the helicopter. And one thing it will happen, and this happened to me, is he'll go to sleep tonight and he'll wake up in the morning on a U.S. base and kind of look around him and think am I dreaming, you know, and then he'll realize it's true, now he's free.

PAUL: How long did that last for you?

ROHDE: Through the first several days, went on for weeks. It's just a gradual thing. And a lot of people say, oh, my gosh, it's going to be so difficult for him to return. This is the most wonderful day in his life to be able to sort of walk through a door when he wants, you know, to eat when he wants, to be free. You know, he is so happy right now, and again he deserves so much credit for surviving.

PAUL: What exactly does it take to manage to survive with so many years in captivity? David Rohde tells us how he found very specific ways to make it through all those months that he was held. We'll have that part of our conversation coming up this afternoon. Christi, Victor?

BLACKWELL: All right, Alexandra Field for us in New York, thank you.

PAUL: So, you just heard former captive Taliban captor David Rohde describing his captivity - or escape, rather, as magical. Nearly five years, though? I mean he was held seven months. Nearly five years, Bergdahl's road to recovery obviously just beginning and we cannot imagine what he's going through this morning.

BLACKWELL: But let's try to understand it. Let's talk about it with Robi Ludwig. Dr. Ludwig is here with us, nationally recognized psychotherapist. After five years, what is it like for him to feel that freedom?

PAUL: Freedom?

DR. ROBI LUDWIG: Well, initially, he is going to feel elated, because of the excitement of being discovered, but as we know they can also experience post-traumatic stress later on.

PAUL: I would think that would come pretty quickly for him. You know, when we talk about repatriation and counseling for him. What exactly is that going to entail?

LUDWIG: Well, posttraumatic stress, first of all, is a reliving of the horrible experience, and it's when a person initially feels safe and then doesn't feel safe because of what they've experienced, so usually the families in this case will get involved because they also are experiencing some trauma, because they want to be able to help their family member who has been captured. So it's a combination of everyone really getting involved in the treatment, psychotherapy and medication management is hugely successful when it comes to treating POWs, but initially, they can have a tough time, because they feel hyper vigilant. They're constantly on edge, in some cases initially they can feel reactions of paranoia, and aggression, but fortunately with treatment, even though posttraumatic stress is something that never really goes away entirely, it's something that can be managed quite successfully, but I think for any POW who has been captured and then comes out, they have what's called a decompression stage where they need to be prepared for what they're going to experience, the media, re-entry with family members and homecoming, because they've been in a very different environment for such a long period of time.

BLACKWELL: Is there such a thing as, and this is in the context of the family, too much too soon, too many visitors, too many cards, too many balloons?

LUDWIG: That is such a great question. Of course. I mean it can be very over stimulating and what really therapists and professionals recommend to family members and friends is certainly to be available. The best thing they can do is to listen, to empathize, be very supportive and to be patient, and just to be there, so that is really the best advice for any family member who wants to be loving, to somebody who has gone through such a difficult experience. It's patience. It's availability, listening, and empathizing.

PAUL: I think one of the things that stuck with people when we first heard about this was his father saying in that press conference yesterday he may not be speaking English and that was, have trouble speaking English and that was confirmed by the Defense Department this morning that yes, he is having trouble speaking English. Is that because he doesn't remember it, because it hasn't been used for so long? I mean what do you attribute that to?

LUDWIG: I mean in general, most people, when they are raised with a certain, with their first language, it's something that's always in their memory, so I would think that this has to do with something about the capture, maybe about the brainwashing or the torture that went on, but usually in general, when people are born with their first language and they're talking it for such a long time, he's in his 20s, I don't think that's not from using it for a long period of time, because your first language is always your go-to language.

BLACKWELL: Are there times when, and I know that there will be efforts to hear his story informally by his family and formally by media outlets, are there times when telling that story is not cathartic, when it's not good to get it out, I imagine or is it always better to tell it?

LUDWIG: That would really be a very individual reaction, but for some people it really does help them to tell their story and to put it into perspective. Of course, it's going - the timing has to be right and there's the right time to tell a story and right now is probably not the right time to tell the story because he has to go through a re- entry process and a recovery process of sorts, but telling his story and putting it in perspective in the context of his life and also coming to terms with what a hero he is, what's so interesting about studies done on POWs is they don't feel like the heroes we experience them to be, so very often the American public will experience the prisoner of war as a tremendous hero, given what they've experienced, but they suffer and sometimes struggle with feelings of guilt that they were even in a situation to be captured, so it's a very interesting dynamic difference there.

PAUL: Oh my goodness, just wishing him and his family the very best, no doubt about it. Dr. Robi Ludwig, thank you for kind of walking us through.

LUDWIG: Thank you so much.

BLACKWELL: Thank you so much, doctor. And we'll be right back.


BLACKWELL: Well, we've been talking this morning about Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl who has now been released. But remember, there are several other Americans who are being held captive in questionable circumstances around the world either by terrorist groups or by nations hostile to the U.S.

PAUL: Retired FBI agent Bob Levinson disappeared in Iran back in 2007. And his family recently admitted, he was working for the CIA, but the U.S. government has not publicly acknowledged that.

BLACKWELL: There's also Kenneth Bae detained in North Korean in November 2012, and North Korean court sentenced him to 15 years of hard labor for allegedly committing hostile acts, although they've never really expanded upon that.

PAUL: Alan Gross has been in Cuban custody since December of 2009. Cuban authorities say Gross tried to set up illegal Internet connections. He was working as a subcontractor on the island at the time.

BLACKWELL: And American pastor Saeed Abedini in Iran, Abedini was sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of attempting to undermine the Iranian government.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: After nearly five years in captivity, their son, Bowe, is coming home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Four years, ten months and 30 days, he's been released on the 30th day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: His mother was crying when she answered the phone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think everybody burst into tears or couldn't get a silly grin off their faces.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was an extraordinary and unprecedented negotiation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is standard operating procedure for the Taliban to take prisoners and exchange them for their own prisoners.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And this is truly a tribute to the professionalism of our military across the board.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I didn't give up hope. Bergdahl certainly did never, ever give up their hope.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd like to say to Bowe right now who's having trouble speaking English. [Speaking in foreign language] "I'm your father, Bowe."


BLACKWELL: There are a lot of people in his hometown, around the country, around the world really, excited to see Bowe Bergdahl. His parents have waited almost five years to see him and soon they're going to have that chance.

PAUL: And there are so many things, so many little nuances that I think people are interested in here, the fact that his father said and the Defense Department, which is talking, saying that he's having a hard time speaking English. Wondering, too, about Stockholm syndrome. I mean here you're depending on these people to feed you, to shelter you, to clothe you, to decide whether you live or die.