Sen. Risch says he sought to keep Bowe Bergdahl safe from drones

jsowell@idahostatesman.comJune 2, 2014 

During the years that Bowe Bergdahl was a prisoner, U.S. Sen. Jim Risch and other members of the Senate Intelligence Committee kept an eye on drone attacks being carried out in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other nearby countries.

Committee members worked to ensure that Bergdahl wouldn't become a casualty of one of those attacks carried out by unmanned vehicles, Risch said Sunday. They reviewed documents and videotapes of bombing runs and kept in contact with military leaders overseeing those attacks.

"They knew if they endangered Sergeant Bergdahl it would be a bad day for them," Risch told the Idaho Statesman.

On Sunday, a day after the U.S. Army sergeant from Hailey was released after nearly five years of captivity, Risch said he was thankful for Bergdahl's safe return.

"The focus for all of us in Idaho should be on the celebration," Risch said.

Bergdahl's release created a wide range of emotions from Idahoans and people from across the nation.

Some say they were troubled by reports over the years that Bergdahl may have walked away from his post or that he was grabbed unarmed while using a latrine outside the camp.

Critics have also said President Barack Obama's deal violated a longstanding policy of not trading prisoners for hostages.

The time isn't right to ask those questions, Risch said by telephone from Boise.

"There will be time to delve into those matters," Risch said.

As a member of the Intelligence Committee, Risch said, he was privy to information on Bergdahl's whereabouts. He said senators weren't aware of his precise location but had a sense of what region he was in within a country.

"There wasn't a week that went by that we didn't get a briefing," Risch said.

It has been widely reported that Bergdahl, who is being treated at a military hospital in Germany, was believed to have spent most of his time as a prisoner in Pakistan. Risch declined to confirm that, saying that information is still classified.

Risch said he remained confident that Bergdahl would be released during his captivity. He said the soldier was "worth a lot" to the Taliban.

"I always believed he would come home," Risch said. "I had never given up hope."

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