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Special Report

All-Star Panel: Did Bergdahl convert to Islam while in captivity?

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," June 5, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RET. SGT. EVAN BUETOW, U.S. ARMY: I'm not trying to get on the political side of anything. But saying that he served with honor and distinction -- honor and dignity, that's the exact opposite of what happened. And that's a slap in the face to everybody who honorably joined the army, deployed, returned home, or deployed and died in combat. Saying that Bergdahl was honorable is the exact opposite. He is no hero. He is a deserter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WALLACE, ANCHOR: Bowe Bergdahl's squad leader in Afghanistan pushing back against claims that he served with honor there. And tonight a new report raises serious questions about how Bergdahl acted during the five years he was being held by the Taliban. We're back now with the panel. So Charles, what do you make of James Rosen's quite remarkable report tonight that intel reports about Bergdahl in captivity indicate that he may have converted to Islam and declared himself a warrior for Islam?

KRAUTHAMMER: Well, that half of the report is less disturbing. In fact I think it would be rather understandable. We have a long history of people held in captivity who toward the end, even in the beginning, become part of those who kidnap them. That's why there is a syndrome known as Stockholm syndrome. It happened on "Mash;" it happened with Patty Hearst, has happened in dozens of occasions. It could either be true Stockholm or it could be dissimulation or a genuine joining the enemy. No one would know.

What's impressive to me and what's new is if the first half of the report is true, that he tried to escape five times, that would seem to be very strong evidence against the speculation that he defected. Everybody, I think, sort of generally accepts that on the current evidence he deserted.
But defection is a totally different thing. You don't go after a defector in order to rescue him. If you are dealing with a defector, somebody who joins the enemy, you kill them -- the way that we killed Anwar al Awlaki, who was an American who joined Al Qaeda. But if he is a deserter, then you have an honest debate of whether it's worth risking a rescue and then giving him military justice. So I think this argues against the speculation he went over intending to join the enemy.

WALLACE: On the other hand, we do hear that he was wielding an automatic weapon and participating in target practice with the Taliban. I mean, it's a very complicated, mixed picture.

KRAUTHAMMER: That's several years in – several years in. That's not like on the day he arrives.

WALLACE: I understand, but still.

LIASSON: But that could mean many things. Patty Hearst held a weapon, too. We don't know what this is. This is why the armed forces, the Defense Department, is going to interrogate this guy as soon as he is well to be interrogated, and they will probably be doing that for quite some time to find out how he left, what he did when he was there. That all is going to come out, I think, and we'll have answers to a lot of these questions. What I think would be a mistake is to take these reports from the sources they come from and indict the guy before we even know what the true story is.

WALLACE: Well, and to pick up on that, George, I suspect this is going to add fuel to the fire from the left that Republican critics of this deal are engaging in a swiftboating as it's been said of Bowe Bergdahl.

GEORGE WILL, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, swiftboating as the people who use that term use it means saying something false to smear somebody. What we know from James Rosen's report is that there is evidence that he carried a gun. He played soccer with his captives when intermittently trying to escape from them, and as condign punishment for that being put in an iron cage. Now, all of these things cannot have happened at once it seems to me.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Not at once, but over time. Maybe they told him to play soccer with them and he had no choice. How do we know? There is a lot of missing links between these pieces of reporting.

WILL: True, but you would have to make quite extraordinary assumptions to assume that all of these things happened. So let's wait and find out.

LIASSON: Let's wait and find out.

KRAUTHAMMER: It's not extraordinary to imagine a guy wanders off, disaffected, gets captured, resists, tries to escape.

WALLACE: And was put in a cage?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: In a cage, and several years after that kind of treatment for whatever reason, he could have been, you know, had some mental impairment, or Stockholm, again, or dissimulation, ends up wielding a gun. So if that's the sequence, it's not at all unusual, or at least unbelievable.

WALLACE: But it clearly turns out to be more complicated than Susan Rice -- I understand this is captivity -- certainly more complicated than Susan Rice saying this is a guy who served his army with honor and distinction.

LIASSON: That was the single biggest mistake that the administration has made by far, bigger than the Rose Garden.

WALLACE: The Rose Garden was pretty vague.

LIASSON: "Honor and distinction" was the worst.

WALLACE: That's it for the panel, but stay tuned to see how the controversy over the Bergdahl prisoner swap is dividing Washington along familiar lines.

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