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Plane Crash Investigation; Bowe Bergdahl Facing Charges; Tornado Warning in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Aired 6-7:00p ET

Aired March 25, 2015 - 18:00   ET


[18:00:02] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Court-martial. The U.S. soldier who was freed in a prisoner swap with the Taliban now is charged with desertion, may face a military trial. Will Bowe Bergdahl wind up as a prisoner again?

And face-off. Who is paying a price for the worst U.S.-Israeli relationship in memory? Tonight, there's growing pressure for one man to call it quits.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following two breaking stories.

A former American prisoner of war now facing the possibility of life in a U.S. military prison. We will have a full report. That's coming up on the charges against Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl nearly a year after he was swapped for five Taliban detainees.

Also breaking tonight, airline officials insist the plane that slammed into the French Alps was in perfect technical condition before the crash. CNN has learned that FBI agents reviewing the passenger list so far haven't found any criminal links. Investigators are studying data from one of the black boxes and other early clues, trying to solve the mystery of why the jet nosedived during the safety part of the flight.

Our correspondents and analysts are all standing by. They're covering all the news that is breaking right now.

First, let's go to our aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh. She has the latest -- Rene.

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, a breakthrough for investigators who have retrieved Flight 9525's cockpit voice recorder. It could be only a matter of hours before they get their first listen at the pilots' final words.


MARSH (voice-over): This is the strongest clue investigators have in their hands. The exterior of the Germanwings Flight 9525's cockpit voice reporter looked damaged, but French authorities revealed today they had had some success.

CARSTEN SPOHR, CEO, LUFTHANSA: One of the audio streams is readable.

MARSH: The cockpit voice recorder captured audio up to the moment of impact. It will provide critical information like whether the pilots were talking in the minutes leading up to the crash.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They can hear what switches are being thrown and what buttons are being pushed.

MARSH: Investigators say the plane disappeared from radar 53 minutes after takeoff and the final minutes of descent appeared controlled.

REMI JOUTY, ACCIDENT INVESTIGATOR (through translator): The curve is compatible with an aircraft controlled by pilots, except for the fact that we can't imagine pilots consciously sending and aircraft into a mountain. But it may also be compatible with an aircraft which is controlled by an automatic pilot.

MARSH: The CEO of Lufthansa, the parent company, says he is struggling to understand why this plane crashed.

SPOHR: We cannot understand how an airplane which was in perfect technical condition with two experienced and trained Lufthansa pilots was involved in such a terrible accident.

MARSH: Finding the plane's second black box will be critical to unlock the mystery of what brought down the jet. On the flight data recorder, investigators will get a second-by-second breakdown of how the plane's systems were functioning. Was everything working or was there mechanical failure?

But the status of the search for this critical piece of the plane is unclear. Today, France's president said this:

FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, FRENCH PRESIDENT (through translator): A second black box is being looked for. Its box -- its outside frame has been found, but, unfortunately, not the black box itself.

MARSH: A claim French investigators seemed to dispute.

JOUTY (through translator): Those rumors are not at all confirmed. We have not localized the black box.

MARSH: Even if the plane's flight data recorder is not in one piece, data may still be retrieved. It's located in the tail of the plane, the box encased in stainless steel and the memory cards containing the valuable information is wrapped in thermal insulation.


MARSH: The FBI says a preliminary review of names on the passenger manifest find no criminal links. The FBI, we should note, is not officially investigating at this point, but because three Americans were on board, authorities in the United States have a vested interest in this case. However, Wolf, it's still early and investigators have everything on the table, including terrorism.

BLITZER: They certainly do. Rene, thank you.

Some investigators had to be dropped by a helicopter at the remote mountain crash site. Airline officials say the area is barely accessible.

Let's go there. Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, is as close as possible to the site.

What's the latest over there, Nic?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the air operation, the recovery is finished for the night. It's expected to begin in the early hours of the morning.

What we will see here again are the helicopters flying in. They will pick up the police recovery teams. These police will be wearing harnesses, ropes. They will be lowered into the crash site and then they will begin that painstaking effort not just looking for the data recorder, other interesting parts of the debris, but, of course, the effort now to try and get out some of the human remains, the victims of this crash, begin to bring them out.

[18:05:24] Preparations are being made. We saw refrigeration trucks being moved into the village here. There's a place in the village that is being set aside for the teams to continue their work once the bodies are brought off the hillside. That's what we're expecting. Tonight, though, for right now, it's quiet, no helicopters in the air at the moment, Wolf.

BLITZER: Stand by, Nic. We will get back to you.

We also know that three Americans were on board Flight 9525. The 150 victims of the crash came from at least 18 countries.

Let's go to our national correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux. She's in Virginia, right outside Washington, D.C., near the home of a mother and daughter who were on that plane.

Such a sad scene over there, I'm sure, Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's so, so sad, Wolf, because think about it. You have this international tragedy hitting very close to home here in the community of Nokesville, Virginia. The family is privately grieving inside that home.

We did reach out to a relative and got a statement. I'm going to read it to you very briefly, saying: "Our entire family is deeply saddened by the losses of Yvonne and Emily Selke, two wonderful, caring, amazing people who meant so much to so many people."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MALVEAUX (voice-over): We're learning more about the three

Americans, two from Virginia, who lost their lives here, Emily Selke and her mother, Yvonne, who was a 22-year veteran of the government contracting company Booz Allen Hamilton.

Emily was a proud alumni of Drexel University's Gamma Sigma Sigma Zeta sorority. On its Facebook page, the chapter posted: "As a person and friend, Emily always put others before herself and cared deeply for all those in her life."

JEN PSAKI, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: We can also confirm that a third U.S. citizen was on board the flight, but are not releasing the name at this time out of respect for the family.

MALVEAUX: Among the others silenced here, 34-year-old opera singer Maria Radner, who was traveling with her husband and baby.

Radner had just completed performances in Barcelona with her colleague Oleg Bryjak, who died alongside her.

ULRICH WESSEL, JOSEPH KOENIG HIGH SCHOOL: This is tearing a huge gap and there will be scars left over.

MALVEAUX: At this headmaster's school in Germany, they are mourning the loss of 16 young students and two instructors. One teacher was recently married, the other engaged.

WESSEL: They had plans for their life. And that was changed from one minute to the next, like a burst bubble.

MALVEAUX: The school group had just finished an exchange program at this school in Spain. Outside, two students mourned over their final photo with their friends.

ANA GARCIA, FRIEND (through translator): On Friday, we were with them all day on a field trip to the beach. They were really happy because they had never seen the ocean. It's hard to believe.

MALVEAUX: For many of the victims, death came in the prime of their lives; 28-year-old Paul Andrew Bramley from Britain was studying hospitality and set to begin an internship next week; 29-year-old mechanical engineer Greig Friday was traveling with his mother, who celebrated a birthday the day before the flight.


MALVEAUX: Yvonne and Emily Selke, both of them traveling together, they loved music festivals. They loved just being together, having a good time, a close family.

Raymond Selke, the man -- Wolf, you can't imagine the sense of loss that he is experiencing tonight, having lost his wife as well as his daughter. He spoke with CNN. He is too emotional, he's too distraught, as you can imagine, to speak publicly. But he is grieving privately. He wants to thank people for their support. But he also wants to ask for his privacy, to respect his privacy during this very, very difficult time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Pass along our deepest, deepest condolences. We of course will respect his family's privacy. Suzanne, thank you.

Let's get some analysis now on what's going on.

Joining us, our aviation correspondent Richard Quest, our aviation analyst Peter Goelz, our law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes, and our safety analyst, David Soucie.

Peter, if they have the cockpit voice recorder and it's usable, but they don't have this, the flight data recorder, how difficult will it be to figure out what happened?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: They will get a picture, but it won't be a complete one.

It will be challenging to put together the entire accident sequence, because the data recorder is really the key document, produces the key information. It monitors thousands of parameters. They have got to find it.

[18:10:03] BLITZER: Richard, is it possible that the inside of that flight data recorder -- we heard the President Hollande say the shell, whatever that means, was found, but the recorder itself, the material inside has not been found. Is it possible it could be completely destroyed?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: It's possible. But it's perhaps unlikely.

The BEA person we heard from earlier was very confident that not only would it be found, but that the nature of its construction, it's built to withstand exactly the sort of pressure and forces that this went through, a plane crashing at 500 miles an hour into a mountain. This is exactly what it is designed to do in terms of its structure. He was confident it would be found and that it would be usable.

BLITZER: Let's hope it is.

I want everybody to stand by.

I want to bring in Geoffrey Thomas once again. He's the editor in chief of He's joining us live from Perth, Australia.

Geoffrey, if you were in that room listening to what is left of that cockpit voice recorder, what's the first thing you would want to listen for?

GEOFFREY THOMAS, EDITOR IN CHIEF, AIRLINERATINGS.COM: Wolf, the sort of things that I would be listening for are the alarms, what alarms are going off. There's about four or five. They make a variety of different sounds. And then, of course, obviously, the conversation of the pilots, which would probably not be a conversation. It would be frantic. What is going on? What's happening? That's the sort of thing

that would give us some telltale clues as to what was, indeed, overcoming these pilots and this aircraft.

BLITZER: Well, what if there's no conversation heard in the last eight or 10 minutes of that flight before it crashed into the French Alps? What does that mean?

THOMAS: Well, that would be an extraordinary mystery. It would possibly point to a total electrical failure of some kind that took out all of the cockpit voice recorder, for instance.

But I think they're going to find alarms. I think they absolutely are going to find a frantic conversation going on, pilots who are perplexed as to what's going on.

BLITZER: Here is one concern, David Soucie, that I have.

They will hear in the last eight to 10 minutes -- I'm just speculating obviously -- they will hear other noises, extraneous noises from inside that cockpit, maybe some alarms, but they won't hear any conversation. What would that say to you, David?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: What it would say to me -- what I would be listening for is to see when air traffic control tried to reach them, because if there's no conversation going on, yet you can hear them try to reach the pilots, there's no response, that would say they're either unable to respond, for example, they were asphyxiated, or they were being held at gunpoint or something like that.

But, typically on that, that's not the case. There's about three or four ways they would have communicated that through the systems that exist.

BLITZER: Because, Peter, if ground control is repeatedly calling in to the cockpit, what's going on, distress, what's going on, we're not hearing from you, if the pilot and co-pilot are still alive or whatever, they would, of course, have to respond right away. They wouldn't be delaying a response for eight or 10 minutes.

GOELZ: No. You can make the response in a number of -- two or three seconds without any difficulty. As was mentioned earlier, Captain Sullenberger did over the Hudson. He responded back to air traffic control repeatedly in the highest-stress situation you could face.

So I think it's a mystery and it's very concerning.

BLITZER: Because, Richard Quest, the mystery certainly is why wouldn't they respond? What possible reasons could there be for them not responding to ground control?

QUEST: Well, I mean, the obvious one might be that they were nonresponsive in the sense of they were incapacitated. But Peter Goelz makes an excellent point when he says, there

really isn't -- assuming they're not incapacitated, assuming they're not unconscious, or worse, if they are dealing with a crisis and somebody from the ground is calling up saying, hey, you are in danger, you have just left your altitude, you risk going towards other aircraft, there's no excuse for not returning the call.

BLITZER: And, Tom Fuentes, that's why, one of the reasons why there's at least the possibility why the FBI, Interpol, other law enforcement officials, they're investigating to see if there's any foul play.


And I think that the way the authorities have described this recorder, they say they hear voices. They don't say when. They don't say what they're saying. They don't say that they're dealing with a crisis on the plane. They don't say they're being held hostage. So, we don't know exactly what's being said.

And the second thing is the data recorder, which we really need also, is to say, were they trying to deal with a crisis or were they told hands off, let this plane go down?

BLITZER: All right, everybody, stand by. We have a lot more information coming in, new details. We will take a quick break. More on the breaking news, the investigation into this crash, 150 people on board, all dead.


[18:19:47] BLITZER: We're back with our aviation experts and the breaking news on the deadly plane crash in the French Alps.

French aviation officials say they now believe the plane flew to the end and the debris field suggests there wasn't an explosion in midflight.

We're back with our analysts.

Tom, there are, what, three FBI agents now on the ground. They're investigating together with Interpol and their French, Spanish, German counterparts. What are they looking for?

[18:20:12] FUENTES: Well, what the FBI agents would be doing is be gathering the data about the passengers, the manifest, any other information, evidence at the site that the plane exploded.

And, again, the fact that the debris field is so littered with tiny pieces indicates that it probably was not blown out of the sky, which causes big pieces of the plane to come down, but just to provide assistance and particularly with the passengers and the crew, to track them down all over the world where -- the countries they are coming from.

BLITZER: David Soucie, could France's what is called the BEA there, their bureau that's responsible for investigating these kinds of crashes, do you think they will ask the NTSB, the National Transportation Safety Board, here in the United States to assist them in this investigation?

SOUCIE: I don't think so, Wolf.

If you look at that briefing that they did, it's a very thorough briefing, one of the best I have ever seen, actually, very thorough, very complete and not belabored. I think they're doing a great job with it. The NTSB has offered to assist. And if they do get short of manpower, they will ask for that. But we will see how that goes from the future here.

BLITZER: I ask the question because those two black boxes are manufactured in the United States. It's possible U.S. experts are more -- better equipped to deal with what's in those black boxes than maybe the French are.

SOUCIE: No, I don't think so. I think they have equal capabilities because the manufacturer assures that they do. Before they are even able to open that box, they have to be certified to be able to open those boxes and have equal capabilities.

BLITZER: All right, well, good point.

Richard, in November, an Airbus A-321, a slightly larger version of the A-320, dropped, what, 4,000 feet in one minute during a flight after the autopilot unexpectedly lowered the jet's nose. This caused Europe's Aviation Safety Agency to issue a safety directive warning pilots about the possibility of an error with sensors on the plane.

Could something like that have happened in this particular case?

QUEST: Unlikely, Wolf.

The incident you are talking about, known as the angle of attack, it's unlikely. The weather was good. The angle of attack would only have frozen over in bad weather or particular freezing conditions. Whilst it's a possibility, most people I speak to are discounting this idea of the envelope protection and the uncommanded descent.

If it had happened, it would be a very serious matter, because Airbus has known about it. It's put out a fix. But Lufthansa, Germanwings says they're aware of it. They're aware of the fix. I think we can -- I wouldn't say completely put it to rest, but we can certainly put it on the back burner as possible causes.

BLITZER: Peter, you have suggested that the debris field in this particular case reminds you of, what, that ValuJet crash of 1996. The plane took off from Miami and crashed, what, in the Everglades in Florida. Why does it remind you of that?

GOELZ: When we got to the Everglades, the only piece that was remotely resembling an aircraft was a piece of the engine. This plane in 1996 completely disintegrated. And the destruction was just horrible. And this accident, there's nothing remaining, some wheels. We

saw the vertical stabilizer, a portion of it. It was a terribly, terribly destructive accident.

BLITZER: What's intriguing, Tom Fuentes, the French interior minister said today they can't rule out the possibility of terrorism or foul play, criminal action. Give us a sense of what the investigators are looking at.

FUENTES: Well, first of all, looking at the debris when they are on the ground, they can see by the pieces of metal if they have been exploded outward.

And, usually, the plane will separate coming down to the ground. They can do tests on the pieces of metal for explosive residue. They can tell if there's a bomb on the plane. It doesn't look like that at this point. But the next question is, did somebody on that plane, either one of the pilots, the crew or a passenger, get into that cockpit and take control of that plane and cause the crash?


BLITZER: The cockpits are locked. Those doors are locked. Supposedly, they're locked. I assume the Lufthansa, Germanwings, which is a subsidiary of Lufthansa, those doors are always locked.

FUENTES: No, not always. They unlock when the pilot or co-pilot comes out to use the bathroom or get a cup of coffee.

BLITZER: Then they put a card in front of there so nobody can get through.

FUENTES: That's true.

But you don't have to be an Olympic hurdler to get past that cart if you wanted to get into the cockpit. If one of the crew go in the bathroom, for example, they know that that person will come out. When they see the light on the bathroom above go out, it indicates the door has been unlocked. They're going to come out.

You can time that very easily, I think, to when the cockpit door comes open to rush through.

BLITZER: Let me get David Soucie to react to that.

What do you think about that theory, David?

SOUCIE: I think there's a lot of precautions in that. Certainly, it's possible that that could happen. He raises some very good points that -- we examined all of those points when we went forward with trying to put those doors and lock those doors when the FAA investigated how to respond to that risk, to that hazard. He brings good points. And each of those things are addressed procedurally within the airlines.

[18:25:17] BLITZER: Richard Quest, I assume they're looking at the background of all 150 people on that plane, right?

QUEST: The U.S. has already said that from their knowledge, there's no criminal background worthy of note for many of -- or for anybody on that plane.

Absolutely, I mean, the people who were on the plane were -- are victims of this accident. But until -- as indeed we saw with MH370, until they know the cause, they can't rule anything in and anything out. Yes, there will be an investigation of the backgrounds of the passengers by the national police authorities of their individual countries.

I have to say, Wolf, although I have also been a proponent of keeping the terrorism, nefarious, as we always, option, it does seem unlikely, bearing in mind the circumstances of this case.

BLITZER: Peter, you have done investigations when you were at the NTSB in which you looked specifically at the pilot or the co- pilot. What are you looking at when you take a close look at those two men or women in the cockpit?

GOELZ: You review their behavior over the past 72 hours, over the past week. You look at their bank accounts. You interview their family and friends to see if they were under any particular stress, whether there anything new had happened in their lives that might have lent them into a depression.

There's lots of things you would look for just to see if there was anything out of the ordinary. And 99.9 percent of the time, you find nothing. But you have to look.

BLITZER: There was one famous case where you did find something, right?

GOELZ: We did find something.

BLITZER: Remind our viewers.

GOELZ: It was the EgyptAir case in 1999, which the co-pilot flew the plane into the North Atlantic.


BLITZER: Off of Long Island, in New York.

GOELZ: Yes. He had been charged with some poor behavior the night before in New York. He was going to be fired on his return to Egypt. He took the plane down with all of the passengers.

BLITZER: David Soucie, if they have the cockpit audio, how long is it going to take -- I don't think they will actually release the audio part. But they usually release a transcript. Right? How long will it take to get that?

SOUCIE: It could take quite some time, Wolf, especially if they don't have the flight data recorder, which is the case right now, because at this point, you have to do analysis. It's not like it's real clear, like you have one microphone, one microphone.

There's area microphones that pick up a lot of information goes in there. You have to detail that and segregate it. It's quite a painstaking process. It could be weeks and could be even a month if there's any kind of criminal activity or anything like that that would indicate a further investigation. It could take longer.

BLITZER: Richard Quest, we know that a few dozen, maybe more, pilots from Lufthansa, Germanwings, they didn't want to fly today. Flight attendants, they didn't want to fly today. Give us the background. What happened?

QUEST: According to Germanwings, and we have no reason to disbelieve them, they're simply too distressed.

And the CEO of Germanwings described it as a small airline, even though it's part of Lufthansa, with a family tradition and a family sort of idea and feeling to it. He said it was understandable that some people would feel this.

Frankly, Wolf, it's completely -- look, some have tried to make hay out of this by suggesting it's a safety issue and that they have been worried about safety at Germanwings and the 320. I have seen, I have heard nothing to suggest that to be accurate.

There's no reason why we shouldn't take Germanwings' statement that they were distressed, they were upset, they were emotional and they wanted -- did not want to fly. Frankly, I wouldn't rather -- I would rather they didn't fly either if I was a passenger on one of those planes.

BLITZER: After a day like that.

All right, everybody, stand by, because there's other information that we are just getting. We will take a quick break. Much more right after this.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We have breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. The former U.S. prisoner of war, Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, is now for the first time telling his own story in his own words. We're getting this new information only hours after the U.S. military charged Bergdahl with desertion.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She's got the breaking news. What is he saying, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is a lengthy document made public by Bowe Bergdahl's civilian lawyer, a man named Eugene Fidell. Several pages where Fidell lays out the case that he will attempt to make, if and when this actually goes to trial.

But at the end of this lengthy document, several pages from Bowe Bergdahl himself in his own words, what he went through.

And let me just start with one quote from Sergeant Bergdahl. He says, quote, "I was kept in constant isolation for the entire five years, with little to no understanding of time, told I was going to be executed, told I would have my ears and nose cut off."

Some of the other details that Sergeant Bergdahl offers for the first time, he says he was chained to a bed, spread eagle and blindfolded. That he had eight to 12 open wounds on each wrist under his hand shackles. And he described rather graphically how he would attempt to drain those wounds himself. Beaten with a copper cable.

Over the years he tried to escape several times. He said once he was able to be gone for nine days. He was held in various conditions at various points. He became quite ill he says at one point. He got better. But all of this going to the case that apparently the defense will try and make that this soldier suffered greatly for the five years he was in Taliban captivity.

BLITZER: In the statement -- and I haven't read the statement, Barbara -- does he explain why he walked away from his base?

STARR: Well, in the portion which the attorney has written, Bergdahl does not. In the portion which the attorney has written, the attorney suggests that we will learn more about all of this, should it go to an open trial proceeding.

He does say that, you know, everyone is well aware of the rumor that Bergdahl wanted to do something like walk to China. And he says quite bluntly that none of that is true. He didn't want to walk to China. He didn't want to join the Taliban. He didn't cooperate with the Taliban.

So beginning to lay out the framework of the case that we are likely to see, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by, Barbara. I want to bring in CNN's Ed Lavandera, who's been covering the story from the very, very beginning. What do you make of the statement? Because you've been talking to a lot of people close to Bergdahl.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think you hit on it right at the very beginning. This is the first time in nearly six years that we are hearing anything coming directly from Bowe Bergdahl. And this is about two pages or so of typed up of -- presumably, this is very much part of the evidence and the statement that Bowe Bergdahl gave to Army investigators. And Bowe Bergdahl's attorney saying that Bowe Bergdahl has been cooperating fully, even cooperating with the FBI agents involved in the hunt for the people who held Bowe Bergdahl captive for nearly five years.

But the letter, as Barbara mentioned, might not talk about the reasons for why he left the post. These are the first details, excruciating details, of what Bowe Bergdahl experienced, being caged and tied -- chained inside a cage at night. Barbara mentioned there was -- that close to the end of the first year, he writes about being able to escape for nine days. His body eventually gave out with having no access to food or water. He was eventually -- a gang of Taliban fighters were able to track him down.

But in this letter, Wolf, Bowe Bergdahl said that he made, in the course of nearly five years, at least 12 attempts to escape from his captors.

BLITZER: General Hertling, what do you make of what's going on right now? You're a retired lieutenant general.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Wolf, what I'll suggest to you is, I'm a firm believer in the military justice system. This is all now attempting on one side to be played out in public, where you heard the statements from the Army this afternoon saying, "Hey, we're keeping the 15-6 investigation, the finding of facts that drove the Article 32, that is about to determine evidence. We're keeping that very secret from the Army perspective so we don't taint the trial."

The release of a statement by Mr. Bergdahl -- Sergeant Bergdahl's lawyer and by Sergeant Bergdahl now before the 32 begins is somewhat -- well, it's -- it's not the right way to approach this.

All of those evidential proceedings will take place during the Article 32 investigation, the grand jury. And to throw it out in the public view is just not the right way to do it. And that's the way a lot of people do it in the civilian sector. It's not the way we do it in the military.

But I've been a court-martial convening authority in the past. And I know that there's always an attempt by a civilian lawyer or by a soldier to throw things out before the evidentiary proceedings. That's what this is going to be all about for the next several months.

BLITZER: General, everybody, stand by, because there's other news, important news just coming in.

Going to go to our meteorologist, Jennifer Gray. Jennifer, I understand there's a tornado on the ground in Tulsa, Oklahoma, right now? What's going on?

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes. We have a possible confirmed tornado on the ground just west of Tulsa. There is a tornado warning in effect until 6 p.m. Central Time. This does include Creek County as well as Pawnee and Tulsa counties. It does include the city of Tulsa. Get into your safe spot right now, away from windows, the center portion of your home.

This is traveling right along Highway 412. Another one just popped up as we speak, Wolf. And this has been reinstated for Creek and Tulsa, the cities of Sand Springs, Tulsa, as this continues to travel to the east at a very fast rate of speed. So you need to get into that safe spot like we said.

This does include the metro area of Tulsa, as well as all of the small towns on the outskirts of metro, especially west. This large cell, as you can see, very heavy rain, dangerous cloud to ground lightning. It could be rain-wrapped, and so that makes for a very dangerous situation. You may not see it coming, Wolf.

We have some video from one of our affiliates right there on the side of your screen. And you can see the very dark clouds, the rain coming down and a possible tornado within that.

So stay tuned. We will, of course, bring you the latest. You see all the rain around that, Wolf. You may not be able to see the tornado coming. That's why it's very, very dangerous. These tornado warnings are issued for a reason. And it's because we have a possible tornado on the ground just to the west of Tulsa.

BLITZER: KOCO, our affiliate over there. So it's not just in a rural area. It sounds to me like it's going through a pretty heavily populated area. Is that right?

GRAY: Yes. Hasn't gotten to Tulsa yet. It will get there in the next 15 to 20 minutes. Right now, it's a cell we're looking at right here. You can see where my hands are. That's the cell that we're looking at. That's the one that's traveling to the east and will be in metro areas in Tulsa within the next possibly 15 to 20 minutes.

Of course, the tornado warning goes into effect until 6:15 Central Time. So from now into the next 30 to 45 minutes, that's when the real danger will be for metro area of Tulsa.

BLITZER: So if people are driving or listening or whatever, what should they be doing? These pictures are pretty ominous as we see these skies.

GRAY: Yes. It's really scary. They need to get into a sturdy building away from windows in an interior room. That's where they're going to be the safest. They need to be on the lowest level. You don't need to be on the second or third story. You need to be on the lowest level inside of a sturdy building away from windows.

BLITZER: Pretty ominous situation over there in Tulsa. All right. We'll stay on top of this part of the story with you, as well.

A lot of breaking news happening right now. Much more right after this.


[18:46:31] BLITZER: We're following breaking news right now. The former U.S. prisoner of war, Bowe Bergdahl, telling a story in his own words for the first time.

We're joined once again by our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr, our CNN correspondent Ed Lavandera in Dallas, he's covered the story from the very beginning, and our military analyst, retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling.

Barbara, very lengthy statement. Part of it released by his attorney, the rest is his own words. But he's sort of not denying that he abandoned his position, right?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, he doesn't actually say very much about why and what happened in terms of the reasons he left his post that night in eastern Afghanistan back in July 2009. What his lawyer is basically saying is, we will learn more about all of that. His lawyer right in the front part of the document, the initial letter to the Army, saying that they need to see more specific documentation about the evidence that they haven't been given, the information that they would like to have as this now moves forward.

We'll see if they get it. The lawyer also making the point -- I think it's really interesting this early on that there has been so much publicity about this case. It may not be possible in his view for Bowe Bergdahl to get a fair hearing in front of the U.S. military.

In fact, he tells us -- I don't know that we heard this before. Bergdahl is serving right now in San Antonio, Texas, on an Army base. When he leaves that base, he is accompanied at all times by two enlisted soldiers not because he's a flight risk but because there is concern by his commander that third parties, people out in public, if they see him, they might attack him.

So, he is constantly accompanied for his own security. That's the level of emotion that is with this case.

BLITZER: Yes. And, Ed Lavandera, the emotion coming in part because so many of his fellow soldiers on his platoon, they hold him responsible. He abandoned his position. Other platoon members, they went searching for him and several of them wound up dying in the search, getting themselves killed. That's why a lot of these guys really, really hate him, right?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There's no question. And the backlash against Bowe Bergdahl was immediate. As soon as it was announced that his -- that he had been released and brought back to the United States -- remember, a lot of platoon mates that served with him said that they were barred from speaking publically about what was going -- what had happened with Bowe Bergdahl in the years leading up to his release.

As soon as that release was announced and Bowe Bergdahl was coming back to the United States, that's why you saw this flood of interviews from people who had served with Bowe Bergdahl, detailing their frustration and their anger at their fellow soldier.

BLITZER: When the president was willing to release the five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Ed, he had a moment there in the rose garden with the parents of Bowe Bergdahl -- we are showing our viewers the pictures right now. But Bowe Bergdahl, when he came back, correct me if I'm wrong, for a long time, he didn't want to contact, want to speak with his parents, right?

LAVANDERA: For the first several months, it was our understanding that Bowe Bergdahl essentially -- we are told by military officials that Bowe Bergdahl had been given every opportunity to reach out and speak directly with his parents and he refused those opportunities. We have since been told about six months ago -- I was told by two sources that Bowe Bergdahl was communicating with his parents.

[18:50:00] But those sources couldn't detail or wouldn't detail exactly how those communications were taking place. We say all this because after Bowe Bergdahl had been in captivity for many years, many people in his hometown, even though they knew there were some serious questions about how he was captured, there are many people who supported him and many people in his hometown who really expected some sort of triumphant homecoming, some sort of, you know, jovial reunion between him and his parents who had had been grieving for so long, waiting for him to be released. None of those images, none of those moments have ever happened, which adds to the mystery of the situation.

BLITZER: Stand by. Everyone, we're following this breaking news. There's other breaking news as well. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.


[18:55:10] BLITZER: We're following the other breaking news: a tornado warning near Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Let's go back to our meteorologist, Jennifer Gray, in the CNN severe weather center.

What do we know now, Jennifer?

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, Wolf, those pictures you were just showing from our affiliate, KJRH, very ominous skies there, that's because this tornado warning just to the west of Tulsa entering the metro area as we speak. Counties that are influenced by this creek, Osage, as well as Tulsa Counties, Wagner included in that. If you're at Broken Arrow, Stand Springs, Tulsa, get into your safe spot, a small interior room away from windows on the lowest level of your home. That's where you're going to be the safest.

It is approaching the Metro Tulsa area right now. So, now is where you need to be inside your safe spot. Of course, Wolf, this is going to last for the next 10 or 15 minutes as it travels through metro areas of Tulsa and then it will continue to march on through the east.

Of course, we have an entire line of showers and thunderstorms, stretching all the way as far southwest as Oklahoma City. About 150 miles away we're showing you pictures a few moments ago from affiliates there. Skies were ominous as well in Oklahoma City where we have severe thunderstorm warnings all around the area but this one in particular, dangerous situation. We had a confirmed tornado on the ground to the west of Tulsa.

Also want to mention, we had reports it was rain wrapped and that makes it particularly dangerous because people cannot see it coming. So, just take our word for it. We have a tornado warning with a possible tornado to just the west of the Tulsa approaching the metro area right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: That picture, I want to show our viewers a picture of what's going on in the Tulsa area, courtesy of our affiliate KJRH. That looks very, very ominous over there. Describe what may be going on, Jennifer.

GRAY: Yes. Well, even if you're not in the area where the tornado actually is, you're still going to experience very heavy rain, you could see very large hail, dime size hail. You can see quarter size hail, even softball size hail sometimes with the severe thunderstorms. So, you're also going to see -- you're going to have deadly cloud to ground lightning. You're have very heavy rain, hail and lightning and on top of that the possibility of a tornado just entering your city.

So, it is very important that you get into that safe spot as quick as you can. So you are safe. And so, you can ride out the storm and be as safe as can be, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Let's check back with you, Jennifer Gray. Thanks very much.

The other breaking story right now, the former U.S. prisoner of war Bowe Bergdahl now telling the story in his own words for the first time.

General Hertling, we've been talking about this. It sounds like in the statement he was detailing the torture he was going through during his five years in captivity. I assume his lawyer and he are releasing all this information to say, look, this guy has suffered enough. Don't make him go through more.

Is that his strategy right now?

GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I can't talk to that, Wolf, but I will say it's a little bit unusual, because as you heard earlier, the army has said, we're not releasing to the public the results of 15-6 investigation which led to the Article 32, the grand jury.

That will be given to Sergeant Bergdahl's lawyer. He has that already. They can't proceed without that. So, any statement saying that he doesn't have all this information is just patently false.

But the evidentiary procedure, that's what happens with the Article 32. And it will go back to General Milley, who is court martial convening authority, who will determine how to proceed based on the evidence. So, the next step, do we go to a full general court- martial. Do they go to a lesser form of a special court-martial or do they drop all the charges? It will come as a result of both sides presenting our evidence during this Article 32 hearing.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr, during this period, now that he's been charged with desertion, is he still free or is he put in some sort of brig? STARR: No indication at this point that he's in any, what they

would call pre-trial confinement. That may be something that could down the road.

Just to underscore, a lot of people may have a lot of compassion for the torture that Sergeant Bergdahl endured, but the U.S. military justice system is aimed at keeping good order and discipline on the battlefield. It's very tough. It's very precise, but it's had good order and discipline that keeps soldiers and all the military personnel alive to come home. That's the U.S. military view.

BLITZER: All right. Ed Lavandera, very quickly, you say he's been in communication now with his parents. Have they actually met?

LAVANDERA: As far as we know they haven't.

And real quick to Barbara's point, we just got an e-mail saying Bergdahl is not in pre-trial confinement and he will continue working at his administrative job there at the base in San Antonio.

BLITZER: All right. We've got to leave it there. But much more coming up throughout the night. Guys, thanks very much.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.