A California Republican claims he has enough evidence suggesting that the U.S. government may have paid a ransom to secure the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl to warrant investigation by the Defense Department's Inspector General.
Conspiracy theories about the circumstances surrounding Bergdahl's May 31 release from being held in captivity by the Haqqani network are rampant and many lawmakers and Americans wonder why the administration traded five Taliban warriors for one American soldier.
One particular question lingers: Did anyone in the government pay ransom, attempt to pay ransom, or use a third party to pay ransom, to win Bergdahl's release? The Obama administration flatly says "no" -- and that it was never even contemplated.
But the lawmaker, Rep. Duncan Hunter Jr., a former Marine, says he has enough information to make him think the government may have shelled out as much as $1.5 million for Bergdahl. The soldier was rescued by U.S. special operators in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan after being held prisoner for nearly five years. Bergdahl apparently wandered off his small combat outpost in Paktika province in southeastern Afghanistan in June 2009. An investigation into whether he deserted his unit is underway. He is in a "reintegration phase" at an Army medical facility in Texas where he has begun to return to a normal life, even going so far as to eat out. He has made no public statements.
Hunter sent a letter to Defense Department Inspector General Jon Rymer this week demanding that he investigate the alleged ransom.
Acknowledging the White House's repeated denials, Hunter wrote: "Due to information I have received, I believe it is necessary for the Inspector General to review and determine if a payment was either attempted or made and whether Congress and the public were misled."
The letter, dated July 7, was provided to Foreign Policy.
"We did not pay cash for Sgt. Bergdahl's recovery, we have no information that anyone else did, and we did not consider paying for recovery as a part of these negotiations," White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden told FP via email.
The Haqqani network, which originated in Pakistan and has ties to Pakistan's intelligence service -- not the Taliban -- was Bergdahl's captor. But the administration released five Taliban members who had been held in Guantánamo Bay to Qatar, giving rise to the conspiracy theories, because, although the Taliban and Haqqani network have an operational and financial relationship, they are distinctly different groups. So what the Haqqanis got out of the deal is the subject of much speculation.
Joe Kasper, Hunter's deputy chief of staff and spokesman, told FP that the congressman received information outlining different options under Pentagon consideration to free Bergdahl. These "lines of effort" included a "kinetic option" in which special operators would rescue Bergdahl, and paying ransom. As much as $1.5 million was paid in February but didn't necessarily win Bergdahl's release, Kasper said. But it may have led to the Taliban-Bergdahl swap three months later, he said.
"There's good reason to believe that a ransom was either attempted or made in February 2014," Kasper said.
Hunter has proof of who within the Defense Department was aware of the "other lines of effort," who briefed higher-ups, and where the information originated.
"We have names and entities and all that stuff," Kasper said.
Hunter is not sharing the proof, he said, because it could jeopardize the IG investigation he seeks. In the letter to Rymer, Hunter said he could provide those investigators with a timeline and more detailed information, if desired.
A spokesperson for the Defense Department's Inspector General's office said Hunter's letter had arrived earlier this week and the request was under review.
Buzzfeed reported in June that Bergdahl's family had opened up a separate channel with Taliban representatives to buy his freedom with $10 million cash that was to be paid by private sources. Those talks reportedly started in 2012 and continued until Bergdahl's release.
U.S. Army via Getty Images