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News Wrap: ‘Don’t come back to Afghanistan,’ Taliban fighter tells Bergdahl in video

June 4, 2014 at 8:30 PM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The Taliban released a video today showing the handover of POW Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl last Saturday. It came as questions continued over how he was captured in the first place.

Clean-shaven and dressed in traditional Afghan garb, Bergdahl is first seen blinking rapidly in the sunlight as he awaits his transfer. At one point, a Taliban fighter tells him, in the local language, Pashto: “Don’t come back to Afghanistan. You won’t make it out alive next time.”

Some of the words, misspelled, appear on the screen. Then, a U.S. military Black Hawk helicopter lands, and three men in civilian clothes quickly retrieve Bergdahl. One pats him down, possibly for explosives, and he gets aboard, ending nearly five years in captivity.

A voice-over says the transfer took place in the Ali Sher district of Khost province, near the border with Pakistan.

Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, in Belgium, said it is premature to assume that Bergdahl deserted in 2009, and that several U.S. soldiers died in the initial search for him.

CHUCK HAGEL, Defense Secretary: I do not know of specific circumstances or details of U.S. soldiers dying as a result of efforts to find and rescue Sergeant Bergdahl. It’s not in the interests of anyone, and, certainly, I think, a bit unfair to Sergeant Bergdahl’s family and to him, to presume anything.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Still, the criticism continued. There was this from Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R, Ariz.: All of us are happy for his family and for him that he is returned to the United States. I also remember that, when I was in prison, our motto was home with honor. Home with honor was our motto.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The White House has said it acted quickly to free Bergdahl, without telling Congress that the deal was imminent, because of concerns about his health.

And The Wall Street Journal reported today that secret videos chronicled his decline. For his part, Bergdahl spent a fourth day undergoing physical and mental assessments at a U.S. military hospital in Germany.

In another development, Bergdahl’s hometown of Hailey, Idaho, canceled plans for a rally celebrating his release. The city administrator said the expected crowd would be too large to manage safely.

GWEN IFILL: The Department of Veterans Affairs has now contacted all 1,700 patients who were left off a medical wait list in Phoenix, Arizona. The VA inspector general had reported they were omitted to cover up long wait times for care.

Today, acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson said officials have begun scheduling appointments for those and other veterans.

SLOAN GIBSON, Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs: We are moving immediately to get veterans off of wait lists and into clinics, and we’re taking action to fix the systemic problems that allowed these unacceptable waits to occur.

GWEN IFILL: Gibson took over the department last Friday, when Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned under fire. He spoke today at a White House event on homeless veterans hosted by first lady Michelle Obama. She said their numbers have dropped by 24 percent since 2010, and she called it a good news day.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad was declared the winner of yesterday’s presidential vote, with nearly 89 percent of the vote. The country’s constitutional court reported turnout was 73 percent. But there was no voting in much of the north and the east, where rebels are in control.

GWEN IFILL: Back in this country, a sick-out by transit workers in San Francisco appeared to be easing after two days. Light rail trains and buses were mostly back on schedule, and officials hoped to resume service on the city’s famed cable cars. The sick-out began after transit workers rejected a contract proposal last Friday.

JUDY WOODRUFF: On Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 15 points to close at 16,737. The Nasdaq rose more than 17 points to close above 4,251. And the S&P 500 added more than three points to finish near 1,928.

GWEN IFILL: The last of the original Navajo code talkers, Chester Nez, died today in New Mexico. He suffered kidney failure. Nez was in 10th grade when he lied about his age and enlisted in the Marine Corps to fight in World War II. He and 28 others were recruited to develop a code, based on the unwritten Navajo language that stumped the Japanese. Chester Nez was 93 years old.