Congressman: Pentagon Pursued Cash Ransom for Bergdahl

Bowe Bergdahl
Bowe Bergdahl / AP

The Department of Defense attempted to pay a ransom for the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl but the transaction’s Afghan intermediary ran off with the cash, according to a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

The claims directly contradict statements from the Pentagon, which has vehemently denied that it paid cash to a Taliban splinter group that captured Bergdahl in 2009. The administration in May released five-value Guantanamo Bay detainees in exchange for Bergdahl’s release.

However, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R., Calif.) claims that cash did in fact change hands, the Wall Street Journal reports.

In a letter to the Pentagon released Wednesday, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R., Calif.) said a payment was made to an Afghan intermediary early this year to help secure the May 31 release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was held for nearly five years by the Haqqani Network in Pakistan, which is classified as a terrorist organization. […]

In his letter, Mr. Hunter asked Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to make new inquires with the Joint Special Operations Command about the allegations that the U.S. made the payment.

According to Mr. Hunter, the intermediary took the money but disappeared and failed to secure Sgt. Bergdahl’s release. Mr. Hunter didn’t specify how much money was paid to the Afghan intermediary, and didn’t identify the sources of his information.

Hunter’s allegations are partially consistent with the assessment of a veteran intelligence officer involved in the five-year hunt for Bergdahl who told the Washington Free Beacon in June that a ransom was almost surely paid.

He described the Haqqani network as more of an organized crime outfit than an ideological group of "Mujahids." They are motivated by money and power, he said, not the perceived religious conflict that animates most Afghan militants.

"The Haqqanis could give a rat’s ass about prisoners," the official said. […]

[He] cited his work over the course of a decade dealing with hostage situations in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Haqqani, he said, "benefits zero from the prisoner exchange. … Based on 10 years of working with those guys, the only thing that would make them move Bergdahl is money."

The Wall Street Journal notes that revived allegations of a cash ransom could reanimate congressional investigations into the circumstances surrounding Bergdahl’s release.

The U.S. government is prohibited from paying ransom to terror groups, such as the Haqqani Network. However, it isn’t clear whether a payment to an Afghan intermediary who isn’t a member of a terror group would constitute an illegal ransom.

The Republican congressional victories on Tuesday could breathe new life into congressional investigations into the deal that secured Sgt. Bergdahl’s release.