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June 6, 2014

Concern for Bergdahl's safe return led to secrecy

WASHINGTON (AP) — Fears the Taliban might kill Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl if word leaked that he was being exchanged for five Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detainees drove the Obama administration not to notify Congress in advance about the deal, according to congressional and administration officials.

There was no overt threat but rather an assessment based on intelligence reports that Bergdahl's life would be in jeopardy if news of the exchange got out and the deal failed, two senior U.S. officials familiar with efforts to free the soldier said Thursday. They spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment by name.

A federal law requires Congress to be told 30 days before a prisoner is released from the U.S. military prison for terrorist suspects at Guantanamo. Obama administration officials said the rule was designed for normal detainee transfers, not an emergency situation involving a U.S. soldier held by the Taliban since mid-2009.

Since Bergdahl's release on Saturday, President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and national security adviser Susan Rice have said publicly the key reason they didn't tell lawmakers was because there were indications — from the latest video of Bergdahl — his health was deteriorating after nearly five years in captivity. On Wednesday night, administration officials told senators in a closed session that the primary concern was the risk the Taliban would kill Bergdahl if the deal collapsed.

"Because of the nature of the folks that we were dealing with and the fragile nature of these negotiations, we felt it was important to go ahead and do what we did," Obama said Thursday at a news conference in Brussels.

State Department spokesman Marie Harf told reporters Thursday, "There were real concerns that if this were made public first, his physical security could be in danger." The risks, she said, included "someone guarding him that possibly wouldn't agree and could take harmful action against him. So, as we needed to move quickly, all of these factors played into that."

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