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Pentagon deal to free more hostages with Bergdahl nixed

Jun. 5, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
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Caitlan Coleman, Joshua Boyle
This frame grab from video provided by the Coleman family shows Caitlan Coleman and Joshua Boyle. (Coleman family / via AP)
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The deal to free Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five Taliban detainees held by the U.S. military nixed a broader effort by the Department of Defense to include other U.S. citizens held by the Taliban and its allies, according to a top congressional aide.

The Department of Defense had a “broader goal” of including Caitlan Coleman of York , Pa., her baby who was born in captivity and her Canadian husband, Joshua Boyle, in a deal to free Bergdahl, said Joe Kasper, chief of staff to Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who sits on the House Armed Services Committee.

Among Americans held captive is Warren Weinstein, a contractor from Rockville, Md., who was abducted in 2011 in Pakistan and is detained by al-Qaida militants aligned with the Taliban.

“The DoD was looking at this in the whole scope of things, to deal with these people as well,” Kasper said. “Instead of five for one, why not five for five?”

“I don’t know how far they’d gotten in pursuing this broader goal,” Kasper said.

In a June 2 letter to President Obama, Hunter said the Defense Department plan, which Hunter said did not have time to materialize before negotiations headed by the State Department gained Bergdahl’s release, did not include a prisoner exchange.

“Now a situation has been created whereby prisoner exchanges – specifically disproportionate exchanges – are viewed by the Taliban and other aligned forces as achievable,” Hunter said.

The deal for Bergdahl’s release “was the best, probably last chance to get him home,” said Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman. Harf cited a statement by Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, saying, “We’ve been talking for a long time about a potential prisoner swap and what that might look like.”

Harf said she was unable to comment on Coleman’s situation because of privacy concerns.

Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, a Pentagon spokesman, said Thursday that he’s “not comfortable commenting on what a congressman says that reveals classified information.”

Breasseale said he’s “totally unaware” of any intelligence analysis that concluded the Bergdahl Taliban swap would cause “a raised threat” to other U.S. personnel.

Bergdahl’s release last weekend has prompted renewed calls from the families of other U.S. detainees in Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea and Cuba to ask why the United States has not obtained their loved ones’ freedom as well.

Kasper said he has been informed twice in the past week, through contacts in South Asia, that Coleman is still alive.

Coleman’s family provided the Associated Press with a video that shows a black-clad Coleman sitting by her husband, who’s wearing a long untrimmed beard. Two videos were e-mailed to Coleman’s father in July and September by someone claiming to have ties to the Taliban.

Coleman calls on “my president, Barack Obama,” to help. “I would ask that my family and my government do everything that they can to bring my husband, child and I to safety and freedom,” she says.

Coleman and Boyle went missing in late 2012 while traveling through Russia, Central Asia and Afghanistan. She was seven months pregnant at the time. Their last e-mail was sent Oct. 8, 2012, from an Internet cafe in Kabul, according to the Associated Press. Afghan authorities told their parents they were abducted in Wardak, a Taliban haven, the AP reported.

Other Americans held for political reasons in other countries include:

■ Alan Gross, 65, is serving a 15-year sentence in a Cuban jail for bringing communication equipment to help Jewish communities connect to the Internet. He was detained in December 2009.

■ Kenneth Bae, 45, a Korean-American missionary and tour operator, is serving a 15-year sentence in a North Korean labor camp, accused of trying to topple the country’s government. He was detained while leading a tour in November 2012.

■ Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-American pastor, is serving an eight-year prison term, accused of trying to undermine Iran’s national security by helping set up Christian prayer groups in people’s homes. He was detained in Iran in summer 2012.

■ Amir Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine, was arrested in August 2011 on charges he was spying for the CIA while visiting his grandmother in Iran. His family denies he was a spy.

■ Robert Levinson, an American private investigator and former DEA and FBI agent, disappeared from Iran’s Kish Island in March 2007. U.S. officials suspect he was abducted by Iranian security operatives. Investigations by the Associated Press andThe Washington Post concluded he was working indirectly for the FBI. U.S. officials deny he was employed by the U.S. government, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says his country does not have information about him.

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