Transcript of Pentagon briefing on Bowe Bergdahl

BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) - Here is a transcript from the Pentagon news briefing on Monday, June 2, 2014.


COL. STEVE WARREN: Good morning. I have several announcements to make.

Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Derek Chollet and other department leaders just completed a two-day visit to Kiev, Ukraine, where they had productive meetings with Ukrainian leaders. The meetings were conducted in advance of Secretary Hagel's meeting with his counterpart and President Obama's scheduled meeting with President-elect Poroshenko on Wednesday in Warsaw.

In Kiev, ASD Chollet discussed the ongoing violence perpetrated by Russian-backed separatists in the east, as well as current U.S. assistance measures, including the $18 million in security assistance pledged thus far. They also looked forward to ways the U.S. and Ukraine can strengthen their long-term cooperation. Toward this end, the leaders agreed that the Defense Department will soon send a small team of advisers to assess Ukraine's mid- and long-term needs for defense reform. This assessment will help shape and establish an enduring program for future U.S. efforts to support the Ukrainian military.

Next announcement. Last week, the secretary, at the request of health and human services, approved the use of Naval Base Ventura County for HHS to temporarily house up to approximately 600 unaccompanied alien children under HHS's care for up to 120 days. We expect HHS to begin utilizing the facility this week. For your planning purposes, HHS will provide additional information.

Last announcement. Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is continuing his reintegration process at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where he arrived at approximately 9 a.m. Germany time on June 1st. The goal is to return him to family and society on the path to complete recovery. Current focus is attending to his medical needs. Sergeant Bergdahl is in stable condition and is receiving treatment for conditions that require hospitalization. Part of that treatment process includes attention to dietary and nutrition needs after almost five years in captivity. There's no predetermined amount of time involved for the reintegration process, and upon completion of his care in Germany, Sergeant Bergdahl will be transported for continued medical care in the United States.

That concludes my announcements. What are your questions?

Q: Before we go to Bergdahl, can we just get a little bit on the support team you're sending to Kiev, how many people, when, and who?

COL. WARREN: A lot of the details still need to be worked out, but within the next few weeks, a team of DOD experts in defense reform, training, and strategy development will move to Ukraine to begin working with the Ukrainians. We don't have a specific number yet, and nor do we have a specific date yet.

Q: Civilians?

COL. WARREN: It will be a team of civilians and military.

Q: Steve, also before Bergdahl, on Friday, the Huffington Post reported that this department has endorsed some plan to let so-called DREAMer kids enlist in the military. Are you able to confirm that? Do you have any details about where this department is on that proposal?

COL. WARREN: We don't have any announcements to make on that.

Q: When you talk about Bergdahl requiring hospitalization, what, are these physical -- physical conditions, psychological condition? What is it?

COL. WARREN: In this case, this reintegration process runs the complete spectrum of both physical and psychological. As you know, I specifically read out, he's got some nutrition problems. He hasn't eaten well over the last five years. So we're focusing on that.

There are other matters, but for obvious reasons, I'm not going to get into the details.

Q: Are you saying he's suffering medically from malnutrition?

COL. WARREN: I'm not prepared to say malnutrition, but I am saying that he has nutrition issues.

Q: Is there anything that he -- any of his physical problems life-threatening, now or previously?

COL. WARREN: He's in stable condition now. Unsure about previously.

Q: Because one of the reasons for going to get him, one of the reasons you all said this had to be done urgently was that his health was taking a turn for the worse. Besides this nutrition issue, is there anything that we should be aware of that he's suffering from?

COL. WARREN: Nothing at this time, no.

Q: Can you say --

Q: Well, nothing that you can say. You're not reversing --

COL. WARREN: Right, I'm not reversing anything.

Q: (off mic)

COL. WARREN: I'm just not prepared to say specifically what his medical condition is, other than stable, requires hospitalization, and one of the matters that we're looking into is his nutrition and diet.

Q: Has the Pentagon or the Army, more specifically, ruled out prosecution for being a deserter or collaborating with the enemy? Have you ruled out examining the why and how he fell into Taliban hands and if he broke any laws?

COL. WARREN: Our focus right now is to get Sergeant Bergdahl stabilized, brought through the three phases of reintegration, and reunited with his family. There's plenty of time in the future to look into the circumstances surrounding his disappearance and to make decisions on the way forward.

Q: Is he still in the -- in the sort of capsule that he hasn't been able to speak to his parents yet? And how long does that period last?

COL. WARREN: He's in phase two of reintegration. Reintegration is a three-phase process, phase one being initial return into U.S. control. That phase normally lasts anywhere from 24 to 48 hours. It is now complete.

Phase two is conducted in a regional medical facility. The duration of phase two is entirely dependent on the individual. This is a slow and deliberate process to ensure that the individual isn't overwhelmed by his reintegration back into society.

A key component of this reintegration is the family. He has not yet spoken with his family. And he will speak with his family when both he and the SERE psychologists who are overseeing his reintegration are certain that the time is right.

Q: What psychologist, survival --

COL. WARREN: The SERE [Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape] psychologists are right now overseeing his reintegration along with other -- with his medical physicians that are there in Germany. Additionally, there's a SERE Psychologist positioned with the family to help them work through this very delicate process.

Q: What's phase three?

COL. WARREN: Phase three is the final phase of reintegration. It's conducted in the United States. It begins with the homecoming. The last pieces of that -- let me check my notes here -- it's reuniting with family and society. It includes introduction to the society -- to society and engaging with the media, giving him his opportunity to tell his story.

Again, there's no specific timeline. It is all dependent on the individual returning, in this case, Bowe Bergdahl.

Q: What about to his unit or the active-duty Army? Is that part of the reintegration?

COL. WARREN: Absolutely.

Q: (off mic)

COL. WARREN: And, of course, he is already now surrounded by active-duty military personnel at Landstuhl, and he will also be surrounded by active-duty military when he begins phase three.

Q: At what point --

Q: Is the Army in charge of all these phases? Or is the Department of Defense?

COL. WARREN: U.S. Army South is the department's lead for the reintegration process.

Q: Is he still going to Brooke?

COL. WARREN: The plan right now is that he will go to Brooke. Always subject to change, but that is the plan as of now.

Q: At what point in these three phases can he be debriefed? I mean, has any of that happened yet? Or is that phase three or what?

COL. WARREN: Debriefing is incorporated in all three phases. The initial debriefing during phase one is to establish his current condition, to determine if there's any immediate and critical information that friendly forces can use for follow-on operations. Continued debriefings happen in phase two and in phase three.

Q: Who's -- is it all the psychologists who are getting that information? Or are there interrogators of sorts who are asking him questions?

COL. WARREN: The SERE psychologists are the lead for the integration. It is an interdisciplinary team that guides him through this reintegration process.

Q: You said that the circumstances of what happened to him have to be investigated. Hasn't that been done already by the Army?

COL. WARREN: There have been investigations into the circumstances surrounding his disappearance, but, of course, a key component is Sergeant Bergdahl's own story.

Q: Sure. Well, can you -- I mean, does this -- the narrative is that he deserted. That's the narrative. Has the DOD ever confirmed that narrative?

COL. WARREN: That DOD has never to my knowledge confirmed such a narrative. What I can tell you is that there have been several looks into the circumstances surrounding his disappearance, but we've never publicly said anything, primarily because we haven't had a chance to speak with Sergeant Bergdahl himself.

Q: Will you do that, you think, after you've spoken to him? Will you release whatever looks you've taken into it?

COL. WARREN: Unknown at this time.

Q: Does Sergeant Bergdahl have an attorney, to your knowledge?

COL. WARREN: Not to my knowledge.

Q: So this DOD -- was that considered preliminary because you hadn't talked to and, therefore, you don't really have results?

COL. WARREN: Exactly. It was a preliminary investigation. And it's impossible to have final results until we've had an opportunity to fully debrief Sergeant Bergdahl.

Q: Was there a determination made in that preliminary investigation?

COL. WARREN: I haven't read it. I don't know, Jim.

Q: When was it done, like 2010, 2009 -- 2010, 2011 timeframe?

COL. WARREN: I don't have those dates.

Q: So is it safe to say that -- the Army have an Article 15 open on this?


Q: Can I ask -- can I ask -- so how does that work legally? I mean, if he could potentially face legal consequences for what he says in these debriefings, is he not required to have legal representation?

COL. WARREN: Well, we're way, way out front of -- you guys are way out front of where we are right now. Where we are right now is bringing Bowe back. Part of bringing him back, part of reintegrating him does include debriefings. But that's as far as I'm going to go now. I'm not going to speculate on what the future looks like. I'm not going to speculate on whether or not he needs a lawyer. Let's just get him back.

Q: So just to be clear, are these debriefings intended to determine the circumstances or just to get some idea of where his head is at? Which is it?

COL. WARREN: I don't know, Jim, specifically. I know the debriefings have a couple of components. They include several things. Number one, our opportunity to determine what conditions he was in while he was in captivity that we can further refine our own training, so that we can further refine our own SERE psychology conduct.

Of course, there's an intelligence component to all of this. It would be naive to think there isn't. And then, finally -- and arguably most importantly -- to determine his condition.

Q: To Phil's point, could what he says be used against him later?

COL. WARREN: I have no idea.

Q: So it doesn't sound like this is to determine the circumstances of his departure from the base?

COL. WARREN: There's time for that. Initially right now, the focus is on what happened during his captivity.

Q: The condition -- (inaudible) -- his condition?

COL. WARREN: Right, what happened during his captivity.

Q: Why is the military more concerned with finding out how he's held to refine training techniques than they are in finding out how he disappeared? I mean, it seems like the priorities are a little off

COL. WARREN: I would disagree completely.

Q: Why? Why? There's -- so there's no -- there's no haste or concern about completing the investigation into how he disappeared? That's not a high priority right now?

COL. WARREN: The high priority is getting Bowe reintegrated and allowing ourselves to -- putting ourselves in a position that when there's a requirement to reintegrate other personnel, we're best able to do that.

Q: The conditions of the five Taliban who were released, there's been, again, anonymous sourcing here that the only condition was they don't leave Qatar for -- Qatar for a year. Is that roughly accurate?

COL. WARREN: We never get into the specific assurances that we receive when we transfer detainees from Gitmo. What I can say is that the secretary determined that this transfer was in the best interests of the national security of the United States of America.

Q: But every story had that in there, blindly sourced. I'm asking you if that was an accurate depiction, that one of the conditions is they have to stay in Qatar for a year.

COL. WARREN: I won't get into any of the specific conditions or any of the specific security assurances that the department received.

Q: Were there more than one, though? I mean, was it a number of assurances or just one or two main ones, if you know?

COL. WARREN: Tony, I'm simply not going to get into them. We never do.

Q: Colonel Warren, you had mentioned before that the -- that one of the points of the debriefing was to potentially obtain actionable intelligence on enemy positions. Was there any actionable intelligence on enemy positions?

COL. WARREN: Phil, we never discuss intelligence from here, so I'm not going to start now. And, again, this is -- this is our -- our standard operating procedure with any reintegration process.

Q: Colonel, if he's -- if he's well enough physically, psychologically, the intention is that he would return to his unit, rather than just simply letting him go home, let him out of the Army?

COL. WARREN: It's still too soon to determine that.

Q: Is he scheduled for a promotion in the near term?

COL. WARREN: He had been. I don't know the current status of that now. As you know, it's the department's policy that when personnel are captured, they are promoted along a standard timeline. Sergeant Bergdahl was promoted once already while in captivity. Twice, I take it back. He was promoted twice while in captivity. He had been scheduled for a promotion I believe this month - in June. Now that he's no longer in captivity, I do not have his status.

Q: Does he receive all back pay and stuff like that in one shot?

COL. WARREN: I don't know.

Q: Steve, I know you've seen the reports that at least six men died while hunting for Bergdahl. Do you have any comment on this? Can you confirm that these were actually missions to find Bergdahl? And -- yeah, can you confirm those reports?

COL. WARREN: It's impossible for me to confirm those reports. What I will say is that every single servicemember who made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan is an American hero, every one of them.

Q: Why is it impossible for you to confirm that?

COL. WARREN: From Washington, D.C., to discuss specific casualties half-a-decade ago in Afghanistan, we're just not in a position to do that right now. And as you know, every mission has its own parameters. So I know there are some names out there. We'll look into them. But at this point, we're not -- we can't confirm anything.

Q: Will you investigate those six that have been specifically referenced and whether they were connected directly? Or are you just going to drop it?

COL. WARREN: Every servicemember who served in Afghanistan, who's fought in Iraq during this war, has done so with the broader requirement to accomplish our mission there, whatever that mission is.

Q: Well, there is an investigation after every one is killed, no matter how. So the investigation will presumably indicate what the mission was at the time that they were killed. So isn't it easy for someone in HRC or something to go back and look and see what the investigation said and get an answer to this?

COL. WARREN: We'll check with HRC.

Q: I already did, by the way. They aren't telling the media

Q: Steve, do those phases preclude the release of a photo of Bergdahl at the same time?

COL. WARREN: There are no plans to release a photo of Sergeant Bergdahl right now. However, introduction to the media is part of the reintegration process, and that will happen in due time.

Q: Were there photos taken of the exchange?

COL. WARREN: I don't know.

Q: Any reaction to the soldiers and former soldiers who are speaking out, saying while they're glad that Bergdahl is back and no longer in control of the Taliban, but it was just too high a price to pay and some of them expressing a lot of anger over the circumstances under which he disappeared?

COL. WARREN: Our warrior creed says very simply that we will never leave a fallen comrade. That is our ethos, and we upheld it.

Q: Steve, how much can you tell us about where he's been? Was he in one place consistently, to the best of your knowledge, this entire time? Has he been moving around?

Q: Was he in Afghanistan and Pakistan? How much can you tell us?

COL. WARREN: I don't have those details. I'm sorry, Phil.

Q: Who decides ultimately if he should be prosecuted in any way? Who's the decider?

COL. WARREN: That will be an Army decision.

Q: Would it be a general counsel's decision here?

Q: Not -- not an ISAF or general -- yeah?

COL. WARREN: United States Army decision.

All right, you guys. Thank you very much. I plan on seeing you again tomorrow.

Q: Thanks.

Q: Thanks, Steve.