Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was beaten, starved and kept in a cage, according to a senior defense official who debriefed him after Bergdahl was released from captivity. (AFP/IntelCenter)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO – FORT SAM HOUSTON, Tex. — Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was beaten with hoses and copper wire, starved and left without medical treatment despite severe diarrhea for 3 1/2 years while in captivity, according to a senior defense official who angrily described his treatment Friday.

Terrence Russell of the Pentagon’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency choked up while describing how insurgents with the Haqqani Network treated Bergdahl, who was taken after walking away alone from his unit’s outpost in Paktika province, Afghanistan, in June 2009. He spoke during a preliminary legal hearing for Bergdahl, who faces charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.

[‘Unrealistically idealistic’ Bowe Bergdahl does not deserve jail time, general says]

Even the women and children who were told to feed Bergdahl and take him to the bathroom mistreated him, with one child hitting him repeatedly with a chain, Russell said. They tripped him, hit him with chains and spat in his food, he added.

“Sergeant Bergdahl was held in conditions where if it were a dog, you would be thrown in jail for pet abuse,” Russell said, wiping tears away at one point in his testimony.

Russell has interviewed or debriefed more than 125 Americans who were held captive. He said Bergdahl faced worse treatment than anyone else he has seen since the Vietnam War. The soldier tried to escape multiple times, at one point making it nearly nine days before he injured his hip and was taken captive again. Bergdahl ate grass to survive while free, Russell said.


Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, left, defense counsel Lt. Col. Franklin D. Rosenblatt, center, and lead defense counsel Eugene Fidell sit during a preliminary hearing to determine if Bergdahl will be court martialed. (AP/Brigitte Woosley)

Bergdahl, who faces up to life in prison, looked down while seated as his torture was described, tapping on his left thigh with his hand. His face betrayed no emotions.

Russell was called to testify by Bergdahl’s defense team. The defense official said that he and others who interviewed Bergdahl found him credible and honest. Russell has worked the case for years, visiting Bergdahl’s parents several times in Idaho.

[Bowe Bergdahl will require lifetime of care for injuries suffered in captivity]

The disappearance of U.S. army sergeant Bowe Bergdahl from a military base in Afghanistan in 2009 sparked a massive search. He was captured by the Taliban and held for five years before being released. Now Bergdahl could be facing life in captivity back home if he's convicted on charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. (Reuters)

Russell said that Bergdahl never gave up trying to get away, attempting to dig through walls and floors, jiggle locks and exercise when possible to stay healthy enough to leave. At one point in his captivity, he was chained to a bed for weeks, an attempt by captors to make sure Bergdahl’s muscles were too weak to get away.

Russell expressed frustration with “widely inaccurate speculation” about what the soldier’s life in captivity was like.

“Nobody knows Sergeant Bergdahl’s story, and I hope that someday the world gets to know how difficult he had it for four years and 11 months,” Russell said. “He did the best job he can do — and I respect him for it.”