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Taliban Release Video Of Bergdahl Swap; Bergdahl In Germany For Medical Treatment; Hillary in "People" Magazine and 2016

Aired June 4, 2014 - 13:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, white flags, handshakes, rocket propelled grenades. The world now getting to for itself the handover of Bowe Bergdahl to American Special Forces.

Also right now, more political backlash here in the United States over the Bergdahl deal. The question now, could President Obama have anticipated all the criticism, taken some steps to avoid it?

And right now, a brand-new interview, Hillary opening up about her husband's health, her plans for 2016 and, yes, even her hairstyles. We'll have the details.

Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. Let's start with a new video showing the release of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl after five years in captivity. It's a rare view of the Taliban and American Special Forces.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr takes us through the highlights.


BARBARA STAR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Chanting praise for their leader, 18 armed Taliban militants seen standing in the wait, perched on grassy hills in the valley, guns and rocket launchers at the ready. The narration says this meeting took place at 4:00 in the afternoon in Khost Province, eastern Afghanistan.

At the center of the action, a silver pickup truck. Bowe Bergdahl seen inside, sitting in the back seat. Bergdahl, dressed all in white. He appears to be nervous, blinking, shaky. Bergdahl seen talking with one of his alleged captors. At one point, the Army sergeant even cracks what looks to be a smile while talking and then wipes his eyes.

Seen flying overhead, a twin engine plane approaching the meeting point. And then suddenly, like a scene out of the movies, the Special Forces Blackhawk helicopter descends. Two Taliban militants immediately escort Bergdahl towards the chopper, waving a white flag. Three U.S. special operations' commandos approach, shaking hands with the Taliban militant. They pat down Bergdahl's back and immediately begin escorting him to the helicopter. In Bergdahl's left hand, a plastic bag. The contents not yet known. The commandos wave back to the militants as they run to the chopper. They pat Bergdahl down again. This time in a deliberate and thorough fashion, presumably a swipe for explosives right before loading him in. This face-to-face exchange lasting less than 10 seconds before they were off. A message later emerges, don't come back to Afghanistan.


BLITZER: Barbara is joining us now from the Pentagon. Our Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto is here as well.

Barbara, that message, don't come back to Afghanistan, that was followed by the words, you will not make it out alive, was that directed at Bergdahl, was it directed at all Americans? I know we've had a translated.

STARR: Yes, I think it's hard to say, at this point. You know, the don't come back to Afghanistan was on the video that they knew the world would see. The language, don't come -- you know, you won't get out alive, to Bergdahl, from one his captors. Look, it's all Taliban propaganda. They deliberately filmed this. They edited it. It was very highly produced. And they put it out on their Internet site knowing that the world would see it. It's propaganda.

BLITZER: Your thoughts, Jim?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it's interesting. There's been a lot of speculation from 30 seconds of video. And Barbara's right, you can't glean that much, you can't make conclusions, but there are also then a lot of allegations about what Bergdahl did, you know, walking off base deliberately, was he a collaborator, et cetera?

But when you see those interactions there, don't come back to Afghanistan. You may not live the next time. That doesn't sound like the interaction between a captor and his captives in a Stockholm syndrome kind of way with great deference. I mean, even when you looked at him in the car, it looked like his hands might have been bound.

So, you know, there had been reports, in the past, that he attempted to escape. So, I just think that it's too early to say the full story on this. And some of the indications in there show that it's -- you know, his story is very complicated.

BLITZER: They posted, Barbara, the Taliban, actually, what, about 16, 17 minutes of footage. I assume U.S. intelligence analysts, they're going to carefully go through all of that, frame by frame, to get some information potentially. What are you hearing?

STARR: Well, look, they're going to go through it frame by frame and they're certainly going to talk to the special operations team that was there to get any insights from them as well as Bergdahl.

You know, it's pretty interesting for the special ops guys to get such a close-up look at how the Taliban operate, how they parade (ph) themselves on that hillside. They've been fighting each other for many, many years. But this was really quite an extraordinary event. All of these moves that you see on the videotape, Wolf, were choreographed ahead of time. All of the arrangements about how the turnover would happen, who -- you know, how many people would be there, would they be armed, would they not be armed, how it would all go down. All of it arranged ahead of time. It looks like it all went very smoothly. But I think one of the most interesting things is the special ops guys did not linger on the ground. They got Bergdahl onto that chopper, and they were out of there as fast as they could be.

BLITZER: Yes, and there -- I'm sure there were other choppers and planes hovering overhead as well. They wanted to get out of there quickly. It's pretty rare, Jim, to see something like this.

SCIUTTO: Extremely rare to see -- to see Special Forces like this in action, particularly the kinds of teams that would be involved, SEAL team six, Delta force we don't know but it would be at that level. I was embedded with Special Forces during the Iraq invasion. That was by arrangement.

But I can tell you, another time in eastern Afghanistan, I came across Special Forces during an operation. We filmed them. They came up to us and they took the tape out of our camera and destroyed it in front us. They don't like to be filmed, in part, because it shows the world, it shows the public how they do things.

And looking at this video, you get some indications, civilian clothes, beards, wearing a chadri, that kind of --- that Arab Middle Eastern scarf we think of. And the kinds of helicopters they use, et cetera. So, you know that U.S. officials will be looking at this for intelligence. I'll bet you that the Taliban were watching as well.

BLITZER: Yes. I want to show our viewers, Barbara, some video of Sergeant Bergdahl over the years. He was taken, what, in June 2009. Take a look at the various images we've seen. In this most recent video of his release, he -- at least to the naked eye, he looked relatively healthy, he walked on his own volition. He was -- did not need some help in walking from the truck over to the helicopter. It looked like he was in relatively good shape. What are you hearing?

STARR: Well, I think most people at the Pentagon are saying, let's wait and see. We simply do not know. There are privacy act issues here that he has every right to so the details of his medical condition are not being released at this time. He was able to walk to the helicopter.

But, look, we don't know what other issues are in play here. We don't know if he has internal issues, systemic issues. We don't know anything really factually about his health other than the U.S. has been saying it has information he'd been in deteriorating health. Not on his death bed. Nobody was, you know, claiming that. But deteriorating physical condition.

And the medical research, over the years, has definitely shown, they've monitored a lot of POWs. People held in these captivity conditions do suffer health problems. And they suffer long-term health problems that can really plague them for years. In Bergdahl's case, we simply don't know the answers yet.

SCIUTTO: And one case and to get at what Barbara is saying, when Jessica Buchanan be was released, they found that she had a kidney infection. You wouldn't see that in 30 seconds of video. And we do know that when they got this proof-of-life video of Bergdahl in December of last year, we reported it in January, that when military experts looked at that video, they saw signs that his health was declining which was one reason for the increased urgency to make a deal.

BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, Barbara Starr. Guys, thanks very much.

Bowe Bergdahl right now undergoing medical treatment at the U.S. Army facility in Landstuhl, Germany. He may be there for a while, we're told. What happens next will likely depend on the state -- the state of his health.

Our Senior International Correspondent Matthew Chance is there in Landstuhl for us. Matthew, has the Army released any updates on his condition? Any change since he arrived there on Sunday?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They say that he's making progress in his condition, but they say he's basically in a stable situation right now. He does have some health problems but as Barbara Starr was mentioning, there are privacy issues concerning what they can reveal about what treatment he's getting. What they are saying is that part of his treatment is to do with nutritional and dietary problems, as a result of his captivity for nearly five years in Afghanistan, in Pakistan as well, at the hands of the Taliban. These are the issues that they've announced that they've said they're definitely focusing on. But they're not being any more specific than that.

In addition to that, though, Wolf, there are the psychological concerns. The fact he was held for so long in -- basically on his own, without any other contact, as far as we're aware, with other prisoners. And so, this will have an impact on him psychologically as well. And that's something they're deeply concerned about. The process of reintegration that he's currently engaged in before he can be introduced back to his family and back into society, at large, is going to be a painstaking one. And there's no set time frame for it either. They're saying that pace will be determined by the rate at which he heals and starts that process of reintegration himself -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Has he been in contact -- direct contact with his family back in Idaho?

CHANCE: You know, we don't know that. We've been asking it kind of -- kind of a couple times a day of the officials that we've been in contact with at the Landstuhl regional medical facility. They're not confirming or denying it. What they are saying is that part of the reintegration process will involve, potentially here at Landstuhl, some kind of interaction with family members. We don't know whether he's been in contact with them or not nor do we know whether investigators have yet had the opportunity to get his side of the story.

Remember, there are some big questions about the circumstances into which then private Bergdahl fell into the hands of the Taliban. This would be their first opportunity to talk to him about what exactly happened. At this point, we don't know whether that -- those questions, his opportunity to tell his side of the story has actually been made or been given.

BLITZER: And we don't know when he's going to be flown to that U.S. military facility in San Antonio, Texas, either, right?

CHANCE: No, that's right, unfortunately, we don't. We thought it could be very soon after he arrived. Then we heard some reports that it could be a few days later. Now, it could be next week. You know, we haven't been given a firm -- a firm timeline on that. But they're saying that's the definite -- the objective at this point, for as soon as possible, as soon as he's medically and psychologically capable of being reintegrated in that way and going back for that, what I think will be a dramatic and, you know, homecoming. They're going to do it as soon as they can. But, no, they haven't given us an exact time frame as when that's going to be.

BLITZER: Matthew Chance in Landstuhl, for us, in Germany. Thank you. You'll keep us up to speed.

Just ahead, we're going to take a look at the video showing Bowe Bergdahl's release by the Taliban. Our National Security Analyst Bob Baer and the Middle East expert, Vali Nasr, they're both standing by to offer their take on these dramatic images

And, later, Hillary Clinton talking about breaking the glass ceiling in politics. What she's now telling "People" magazine about 2016.


BLITZER: U.S. Army captive Bowe Bergdahl was reunited with U.S. forces over the weekend in the remote Khost (ph) province of eastern Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border. The Taliban video of Bergdahl's handover shows curious details such as the raised hood on the pickup truck and the almost casual manner of Bergdahl's captors.

To analyze this video in greater depth, give us some perspective, let's bring in former CIA operative, CNN national security analyst Bob Baer, and Middle East expert Vali Nasr. He's the dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies here in Washington, D.C., my alma mater, by the way.

But, Vali, let's talk a little about this video. First of all, why would the Taliban release the video? From their perspective, what's in it for them?

VALI NASR, DEAN, JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL OF ADVANCED INTL. STUDIES: Well, first of all, it has propaganda value. Secondly, they also have a constituency that they need to explain to what happened, why did they make a deal, what did they get out of it. And I think they were very keen to get ahead of the ball game and set the parameters for a PR explanation for the release of Bergdahl before we do so.

BLITZER: Would the U.S. side as well, Bob, I didn't see anybody with cameras on the U.S. side, also be shooting video of this for whatever reasons? And if they did, would they consider releasing it now that the Taliban has released 16 or 17 minutes of their raw footage?

BOB BAER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Almost definitely not. Special forces, special operations, don't like to record combat incidents or an exchange like this. They're very, very secretive. And they would have preferred that the Taliban not release this. You know, by the way, these guys are incredibly brave to fly into that area on their own, one helicopter. It's really quite remarkable.

BLITZER: It is remarkable, Vali, because when you think about it, it was very well choreographed. There must have been extensive discussions going into this transfer of Bowe Bergdahl because it seemed both sides knew exactly what they had to do, how they had to do it and get it over with.

NASR: Absolutely. I think not only was this negotiated very carefully, but the role that the country of Qatar play because ultimately it's their honor and their word and their trust is on the line. In some ways, if the Taliban had done something funny or something dangerous, then it would have reflected very badly on Qatar.

BLITZER: Because the president of the United States personally spoke with the emir of Qatar -

NASR: That's right.

BLITZER: And got the assurance that this was all in the works.

NASR: That's right.

BLITZER: The Qataris, they put this deal together. What's the significance? I know you looked at the video, Bob. Did you see any significance, for example, the raised hood on that vehicle, anything along those lines? What do you make of it?

BAER: Well, I've found it interesting, the commentary, you know, the subscript is, once we leave Afghanistan, why can't we be friends? You know, they almost regretted that the operators didn't stay and talk to them and have three cups of tea or whatever. So I find it very curious. I mean it was a good piece of propaganda, as Vali said. And it's a Taliban that's basically saying, look, the Americans are leaving, they didn't get what they want, which is our destruction, and it was almost a statement of victory of some sort.

BLITZER: Does this embolden the Haqqani network now? It was the Haqqani network that actually controlled Bowe Bergdahl for, what, five years, inside Pakistan. That's the assumption. The Haqqani network was deemed a terrorist organization by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton back in 2012. Does this embolden them, this video? Gets them more recruitment opportunities? What does it do? NASR: Well, they are as bold as they can be. As Bob says, they already are arguing that they defeated the United States, we're leaving. I think at some level they did also accept the authority of the greater Taliban leadership in this case.

BLITZER: You mean Mullah Mohammed Omar?

NASR: Mullah Mohammed Omar. (INAUDIBLE) -

BLITZER: Who's disappeared, basically?

NASR: Who's disappeared, but he's the one who released the statement at first. He's the one who cut the deal with the emir of Qatar. So the Haqqanis have asserted that they're not completely independent of authority. They're under the Taliban leadership.

Secondly, as Bob says, there is an element here in this video which argues that it is possible to make a deal. It is possible to have a diplomatic solution to things. And I think the Taliban very much want to tout that, that it's possible for -- now that we're leaving, for us to have a live and let live arrangement with them.

BLITZER: Yes, I've watched the entire 16, 17 minutes, Bob, and we've translated into English everything that was heard by the Taliban troops who were there, whatever they were saying, and they seem -- they did, in fact, seem sort of disappointed that it was going so quickly. I think they wanted to have a little chat with these special operations forces. They were disappointed it moved as quickly as it did. What do you make of that?

BAER: Well, I think - well, I think the operators, first of all, were very polite in an American sense, but they really wanted to sit down. I think the Taliban, in particular, is telling us in this message and the release that, hey, we would like to be part of the new -- you know, the new Afghanistan government. We are acceptable. And the rest - and we are rational, reasonable people. And for the most part, the Haqqani network is. They're vicious fighters and they're not a nice bunch of people, but they're not entirely, you know, haven't gone over the abyss.

BLITZER: Yes. One -- near the end of the tape, we hear one of the Taliban fighters saying, when he first saw the helicopters, he became very happy, but they left very quickly. We didn't get the time to convey them our messages. So, clearly, there were some messages they wanted to convey. Not this time.

I want both of you to stand by. We have much more to discuss, expert analysis on this dramatic video of Bowe Bergdahl's release, including one potential reason the U.S. did not want to leave Bergdahl behind. Stay with us.


BLITZER: The release of Bowe Bergdahl has set off a firestorm about whether trading five senior Taliban operatives for one soldier was worth it. Let's bring back former CIA operative, the CNN national security analyst Bob Baer, Middle East expert Vali Nasr of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He's the dean.

Give us a bigger context. This happens now, but it happens in the context of a lot going on, not only in Afghanistan, but with Iran. The president wants to close Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. prison there. Give us a little perspective, Vali, on what's really going on here. Because this is not just an isolated incident.

NASR: No. I think it actually goes to the fact that the president means it when he says he wants to get out of Afghanistan, he doesn't want to leave any loose ends behind, nothing that will tie us down, embarrass us later or bring us back somehow. Secondly, I think this president has now clearly broken with the Bush administration policy that we do not negotiate or talk to our enemies. So we see there has been talks for secret, now open with Iran. There have been talks with the Taliban. And this is actually the first deal with the Taliban after two years of back and forth with them. So this is a new sort of a precedent by this president using diplomacy and negotiation to at least get certain things out of adversaries that the previous administration was not able to do through just confrontation.

BLITZER: And on the whole, you think this was a good deal?

NASR: Well, I think it's a good deal for the United States. We cannot be leaving Afghanistan and leaving an American there that the Taliban may use in any which way, unpredictably, to put us in a bind. And I do think that it's good now that we're leaving. There is an example for the Afghan government to follow up with the Taliban about a negotiated settlement to end this conflict.

BLITZER: Clearly, Bob, the Qataris and the emir of Qatar played a hugely important role in all of this. These five Taliban prisoners now, they're free to walk around, to do whatever they want. I assume they'll be watched in Qatar. They can't leave the country for a year. But give us a little sense. This is video that they've released of -- they got a hero's welcome when they landed in Qatar, just as Bowe Bergdahl was being reunited with U.S. military forces.


BAER: Look, Wolf, this -- the important thing here is that Qatar is a good spokesman for militant Islam. It's a good friend of the United States. It doesn't surprise me at all that they negotiated this. There's a lot of militant Islamic groups there. They're trusted by them, as they are by Washington. There's a big American base. And I think these guys will stay there and will be relatively quiet.

Qatar has a very sophisticated police force. They won't be able to fly out. I doubt they can get through the ports as well. And their honor is attached to this, as Vali said. And they're going to do their best to manage this to Washington's favor.

BLITZER: Yes, the U.S. military central command still has quite a facility there in Camp As Sayliyah, just outside of Doha, Qatar, I've been there. I've seen it. And I can testify, it's robust, even though the Qatari government doesn't like to discuss it.

All right, Vali, thanks very much for joining us, as usual. Bob Baer, thanks to you as well.

Coming up, more on this story. Also, we're going to find out what documents released by WikiLeaks, what those documents say about the capture of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl by the Taliban nearly five years ago.

But up next, Hillary Clinton's views on the Bergdahl swap when she was secretary of state. Officials say she wanted a tougher deal. Gloria Borger standing by to discuss with me.