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Bowe Bergdahl Recovering; Bergdahl Family Friend Wishes For Compassion; Tom Coburn: Bergdahl was "Obviously Drugged"; Andrew Tahmooressi Speaks from Mexican Prison

Aired June 6, 2014 - 06:30   ET


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And it certainly is much stronger than we've heard her say before.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: I am just haunted by the obvious question. Why would you be doing any of this if you weren't running for president? And I get that the tension, the anxiety, is kind of what drives the news cycle. So we're kind of -- we're caught in the media. You know, we have to drive this, Brianna, because it is before us, and yet it seems pretty obvious as well, you know?

KEILAR: Sure. OK, sure, but in -- but in fairness, when you look, I think, at the rollout of the book and the way it's come out, you know, if you have a bad story and you want it to go away, then you just kind of come clean with it, right? You don't send things out in drips and drabs.

Well this is for her kind of a good story. And you see it coming out in measured little bits. It's such a coordinated rollout. I mean, this is very much, I think, maybe not this book seems like it was obtained by CBS News. But we've seen some of the leaks. I mean, a lot of this is very much exactly where her camp wants it to be, and they've been sort of drumming it up all of this press.

And I know you say, oh, you know, this has to be about running for president. It's also about book sales. We can't forget that.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Absolutely we cannot forget that. That's absolutely right.

Ron Brownstein, great to see you.

Brianna, thank you very much. We'll talk to you guys --


BOLDAUN: -- throughout the show.

CUOMO: Didn't know the Clintons were hard up for cash. Last time I checked, it didn't --

BOLDUAN: What's that line, you never can have enough?

CUOMO: That's true, or money or power. Coming up on NEW DAY, startling new information about Bowe Bergdahl.

Reports that the soldier just freed from the Taliban had walked off the battlefield before, maybe twice. We're going to talk to a friend of the Bergdahl family. How are they dealing with all of the backlash surrounding the freedom of their son?


MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to NEW DAY. Here's a look at your headlines.

President Obama and other world leaders are in France this morning marking the 70th anniversary of D-Day. Speaking earlier, President Obama said the world must continue telling the stories of D-Day and continue to uphold the values of soldiers who can no longer share them. After his speech, the president met with veterans who stormed the beaches of Normandy.

In moments, world leaders will attend a diplomatic lunch. We can see the queen there, along with Prince Philip. It will be the first time that President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin will be together since Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea region.

One student is dead and three others hurt after a 26-year-old man opened fire on the campus of Seattle Pacific University late Thursday. Seattle police have identified the gunman as Aaron Ybarra. Authorities say he is not a student at the school. They do believe he acted alone. At this point, though, no motive has been discovered. Police say Ybarra was stopped by a student guard. His quick thinking led to him tackling and subduing that gunman.

Beat the Heat taking on added significance in game one of the NBA finals. The Spurs beat Miami, the Heat, 110-95 in San Antonio. Tim Duncan, 21 points, ten rebounds. LeBron James had major leg cramping issues, had to leave before the end of the game. But here's where beating the Heath took on even more poetic, I don't know, significance. The air-conditioning went out. Yeah, that arena felt like a big old sauna we're told. Game two Sunday night, San Antonio. Let's hope everybody has a little bit of A.C.

BOLDUAN: Can you imagine? It's already warm.

PEREIRA: Yeah, I was gonna say, especially when you're crowded in there.

CUOMO: The Spurs were feeling cool, though. Looked like the better team last night.

BOLDUAN: Well, there we go. And you can stop now.

Coming up next on NEW DAY, we're learning more about Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl's time in captivity. Did he try to escape from the Taliban and did he try to do it more than once? A family friend of the Bergdahls will be joining us to talk more about his release -- his release, his recovery, and the political uproar that has surrounded it. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY. As Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is recovering at an American military hospital in Germany, we are learning more from U.S. officials about his time as a Taliban prisoner, including attempts to escape.

CNN's Barbara Starr is following all of the developments as she has been for us live from the Pentagon in Washington.

Barbara, what are we learning?


You know, there are a lot of new details about what may have happened to Bowe Bergdahl, but as you say, there are also a lot of questions.


STARR (voice-over): Bowe Bergdahl may have tried to escape his Taliban captors on at least two occasions, a U.S. official tells CNN. But until the Army can talk to Bergdahl directly, they won't know for sure. Bergdahl may not yet have talked fully about his five years in Taliban captivity, but he is recovering.

The Pentagon now says he is speaking English to the medical staff treating him, participating more in his recovery treatment, and is resting better. Administration officials insist they didn't tell Congress about the prisoner swap in advance because Bergdahl's health and safety were at risk. They didn't even know the precise location of the handover until an hour before it happened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At ever step along that process, if the fact that we were doing this exchange had come out and become public, there was a real risk that the deal would have been scuttled, that Bergdahl would have been killed.

STARR: The secret December 2013 video of an ailing Bergdahl U.S. officials showed senators wasn't a slam dunk for some. Senator Tom Coburn, who is also a doctor, told CNN in an exclusive interview he has a different explanation after seeing Bergdahl's symptoms.

SEN. TOM COBURN, (R-OK): Fist of all, very sleepy, having trouble focusing, concentrating, was staring at a card they were making him read. You couldn't see the card, but you could see what he was doing. You could see his eyes with what's called nystagmus moving back and forth. That's a side effect of some of those medicines. You know, he was obviously drugged.

STARR: An Afghan security official who was on duty near where Bergdahl was captured in 2009 told CNN when local villagers spotted Bergdahl, they tried to get him to leave the village, telling him the area was dangerous. The official said Bergdahl appeared to be under the influence of hallucinogenic substances.

CNN has spoken to several U.S. officials who could not independently confirm those accounts.


STARR (on-camera): And a Pentagon official tells me they have looked at the allegations that six U.S. soldiers were killed during missions searching for Bergdahl. And so far they say they cannot confirm those allegations. Chris?

CUOMO: All right, Barbara, certainly that is one point of the controversy surrounding this.

Let's get some different perspective on it from Matthew Hoh. He is a friend of the Bergdahl family. He's also a former State Department official and a U.S. Marine captain.

Captain, thank you for joining us.


CUOMO: How is the family doing, specifically how are they balancing the joy of knowing that their son is alive and safe with so much of this white, hot heat that is coming around the controversy?

HOH: You know, they're doing as well as can be expected. And I want to make it clear I don't represent the family or speak on their behalf. But I am friends with them, and I have been in contact with them. I actually saw Bob and Jani just two days before Bowe was released.

They are devoted parents, and they are dedicated right now to getting Bowe back home, to getting him healthy and helping him begin his life again. And I think like most people, they are just overwhelmed with the lack of compassion and sanity in this debate, in fact, that there is even a debate about it. As well as, you know, what I can only describe as a spirit of bloodlust among certain members of the political establishment, the media, and really sadly, among elements of the American population.

CUOMO: Now, a lot of it centers around two key aspects, right? One is the trade and whether it was a good deal and what it means for American safety. And the other part of the circumstance is surrounding the disappearance. In talking to the family, understanding the military the way you do and the facts on the ground --

HOH: Sure.

CUOMO: -- do you believe that Bowe Bergdahl left of his own free will and maybe deserted?

HOH: I don't know. I don't know, and nobody knows. Bowe is the only person who knows that. And, you know, there's this rush to condemnation before the facts are clear. You know, Reuters today is reporting that Bowe had left the base previously and come back on the base. So was he just going out there to take photographs? You know, seems to me is that he made a mistake, a mistake that 22-

year-olds are prone to do. I certainly made a ton of mistakes when I was 22. But certainly, you know, this -- this rush to condemn him, this rush to demonize him -- and look, you know, Chris, you know, I want to say to my fellow veterans, you know, I understand your anger. I understand your frustration. I understand your grief.

But Bowe and his parents, Bob and Jani, are not to blame for the deaths of American soldiers. Your frustration and your anger is appropriate. I understand that. But please direct that towards the politicians and the generals who have kept this war going, the people actually responsible for the deaths of these soldiers, who make the policy, have put them over there, kept them there. They're the ones we should be holding accountable.

CUOMO: But you understand Captain, that some of it goes to just, you know, why this happened in the first place.

HOH: Sure.

CUOMO: And then, you know, whether or not men killed in action were actually on search missions or it was just, you know, part of the compromised missions there after, Americans died, and that's going to make people angry, especially people like you who sacrifice and put their lives on the line.

But I do think it is relevant to understand what happened with Bowe Bergdahl. And one of the things is we know about the e-mails he was sending home. Does the family understand him as someone who is turning against America or who is struggling with being at war in general?

HOH: The latter, the latter. I mean --

CUOMO: Because that's important. It's an important distinction.

HOH: Oh, it totally is. And Chris, I'm very glad you're bringing that up. Because lots of people, lots of men and women I serve with, guys and gals who are just getting back right now even, are dismayed. They're confused at the war.

The author of the piece in "The Daily Beast", who -- who really came out against Bowe, even he said that the war was absurd. Chris, this is the most unpopular war in American history. Over -- about 83 percent of the American public is opposed to the war. And over half the population or about half the population thinks that putting American troops into Afghanistan in 2001 was a mistake.

So that's the debate we should be having right now. You know, almost 7,000 Americans have not returned home to their families in these wars. Why are we not rejoicing, why are we not celebrating that Bowe is back home or he's coming home? Why are we not appreciating and helping the Bergdahls as this terrible period, this five-year period where Bowe was a prisoner of war is now coming to an end?

I've seen a lot of grief and suffering these last 13 years; a lot of people have. But when I have dinner with Bob and Jani two days before their son was released, I've never seen a look in a mother's eyes like I saw in Jani. As her -- her son was being held by the enemy. You know, and -- I try not to get emotional here.

But, you know, I want to say -- and people who know me know that I'm not a fan of this president, but I do want to take this opportunity on my behalf, seeing what my friends were going through to thank the president for doing this, thank his team, Secretary Hagel and Secretary Kerry, for bringing Bowe back to his Bob and Jani. You know, and I just wish people would stop and there be a degree of compassion and sanity to this conversation.

CUOMO: Oh, we hear you, especially where the family is involved, the parents here. What Bowe Bergdahl did, he's going to be held accountable or not, one way or the other as the facts come out.

But to hear people bringing the family into the political fire storm and the guy over on MSNBC, you know, charging them with being bad parents for what happened here, it's gotta be rough on them.

So Captain, thank you for joining us this morning.

HOH: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: Send our regards to the family. And we'll continue to cover this story, and we wait for Bowe's side to come out because it's very important.

HOH: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: All right, take care, Captain.


BOLDUAN: All right, thanks Chris, coming up next on NEW DAY, a U.S. Marine held in a Mexican prison. You see him right there. He's been there now for more than two months. He says he has done absolutely nothing wrong. He describes it as a living hell. His story, our interview with him coming up.


CUOMO: This morning, a decorated U.S. Marine is behind bars and in legal and personal limbo in Mexico. His name is Sergeant Andrew Tahmooressi. We've been telling you about his story and following it. He is being held in some of the worst conditions the Mexican prison system has to offer for more than two months.

Why? He drove his truck with guns in it across the border, he says by accident.

I spoke with him on the phone from prison. Remember, this is a veteran who needs treatment for PTSD. He's been diagnosed. He was in a hard way before all of this. He told me of abuses so terrible that while hog-tied to a prison bed, he used his one free hand to attempt suicide with a shattered lightbulb. (BEGIN AUDIOCLIP)

VOICE OF ANDREW TAHMOORESSI, HELD IN MEXICAN PRISON: I had one hand above my head, not both, just one. I was laying on a bed. One leg was on one opposite wall, and the other on the other wall above my head maybe a foot and a half, 2 feet. And yes, I did, when I got the opportunity, I decided to stab myself in the neck with a lightbulb.


TAHMOORESSI: Why? I was -- I was paranoid. I had been abused. I was thinking they were going to come and abuse me more and torture me and get information about my family from me. So I said, I'm not going to allow them to do that.

CUOMO: Now, I want to ask you about something else, Sergeant. And I'm sorry if it seems like I'm prying. You're dealing with PTS, and you're trying to get treatment for it, and we know that's one of the reasons you went to the West coast. Are you supposed to be taking medications now? And do you have them? Are you -- are you treating yourself?

TAHMOORESSI: I'm treating myself, yes. I don't believe I need medication to treat myself right now. I think I'm doing just fine.

CUOMO: Is it your claim that the only reason you wound up in Mexico this time was because of a couple wrong left turns, yes?

TAHMOOORESSI: Yes, that is correct.

CUOMO: A Tijuana-based newspaper has put out reporting that they say they have proof that you actually had crossed the border internationally and intentionally several times and that you stayed at a hotel earlier during the day in question. Is any of that true?

TAHMOORESSI: I did. I stayed in a hotel earlier in the day. I -- earlier in the day, I parked my truck at a parking lot on the American side across from the -- across from Mexico. And I walk into Mexico with a backpack with extra clothes and hygiene supplies, passport, wallet.

And I decide to go hang out in Mexico for some good Mexican food, inexpensive place to stay and to hang out. I was in Mexico four times previous to the time that I got arrested. I went with my friend a couple times to Mexico just to hang out.

CUOMO: You know what the authorities are going to say, Sergeant. They're going to say that these frequent short duration stays in Mexico are proof, not only that you knew where you were and where you should have been going, but that you may have been there trafficking weapons as opposed to just visiting. How do you respond?

TAHMOORESSI: I know what they're going to say. They're going to say a whole bunch of lies. And they're already saying a whole bunch of lies. And I just know that the truth will set me free and that -- I'm not worried about the officials. Because they've already been caught in lies. They've already been caught in their lies.

CUOMO: So let's just correct the record then from your perspective. Were you in Mexico trafficking benefits?

TAHMOORESSI: No, absolutely not. Absolutely not.

CUOMO: Had you been making trips there that weren't just visits but were for some other specific business purpose?

TAHMOORESSI: Negative. Not at all.

CUOMO: Did you know where you were going when you were caught in Mexico this time? Were you there on purpose?

TAHMOORESSI: No, absolutely not. I would like everyone to know that I'm an innocent man and that it was just a big mistake and that I had no intention of -- of bringing weapons into Mexico or committing any crime at all. Unfortunately, I wasn't treated right at the border, and my rights were violated.

CUOMO: We understand, Sergeant. And you know, we're following your story. We want to make sure that justice gets served. And all of us back home are watching what's going on with Bowe Bergdahl. Obviously, it's a big political discussion about what was done to get him back and whether it was a good deal.

And as you're hearing about that, does it make you think about the U.S. and what they're going to try to do to get you back as a service member yourself?

TAHMOORESSI: I mean, it makes me think a little bit. I don't know what they're going to do to help me. I think if they do help me, it's probably just going to be behind the scenes and -- and not too many people or anyone -- the public isn't going to know about it.

CUOMO: And do you feel confident that they're doing what they can?

TAHMOORESSI: I don't get to see what is exactly is going on, so I don't really know. I'm just anxious to get out of here and be with my friends and family again.

CUOMO: All right, and you're being treated OK now? You're happy with the current treatment? There are no abuses that you want us to know about now?

TAHMOORESSI: No, sir. No abuses. Everything's been good ever since news coverage.

CUOMO: All right, well, there's one good thing about the media, I guess. Sergeant, stay strong, and let us know of any developments that you think deserve the attention, OK?

TAHMOORESSI: OK. Thank you, sir.

(END AUDIOCLIP) CUOMO: Obviously, you judge for yourself what you know about the situation and what you hear in the voice of Andrew Tahmooressi. What I hear is somebody who is emotionally flat because they're struggling. And they're not just struggling because they're in a Mexican prison, which is about as bad a place you can be.

But this -- you know, we're talking about Bowe Bergdahl. We're making this case about what we do for veterans who are in stress. And I get that they're very different situations. One's a prisoner of war. One is in a legitimate legal situation, "legitimate" in quotes. But the guy needs help.