June 5th, 2014
08:46 AM ET
7 months ago

Bergdahl backlash surprises White House

Updated 10:35 a.m. ET, 6/5/2014

Brussels, Belgium (CNN) - White House officials expected controversy when the deal was announced to free Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for the release of five Taliban detainees from the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Despite the feel-good moment in the White House Rose Garden featuring President Obama and Bergdahl's beaming parents last Saturday, the five-for-one trade was sure to create an uproar, a White House official acknowledged.

What came as a surprise to White House aides, one official says, was the barrage of harsh personal attacks aimed at Bergdahl and even his family.

But Obama stressed Thursday he has no regrets about the decision.

"I make absolutely no apologies for making sure that we get back a young man to his parents and that the American people understand that this is somebody's child–and we don't condition whether or not we make the effort to try to get them back," he said at the end of the G7 summit in Belgium.

Critics of the prisoner exchange have suggested the U.S. received the short end of the deal, in part, because of the questions about the still murky events that led to Bergdahl's initial capture.

"It's very interesting to me that they would be willing to release five extraordinarily dangerous Taliban members in exchange for this soldier who apparently left his post. We don't know all the details," Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said in an interview on CNN's "Out Front."

Some of Bergdahl's fellow soldiers have accused him of desertion. But Obama administration officials have cautioned against drawing any final conclusions about how Bergdahl fell into Taliban hands. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Bergdahl is innocent until proven guilty.

Senior Democratic leaders counter that Republicans are simply using Bergdahl as a political football to damage the President.

"Opponents of President Obama have seized upon the release of an American prisoner of war. That's what he was. Using a moment of celebration as a chance to play political games," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Wednesday.

Conservative opponents of the President have also taken aim at the former POW's father, Robert Bergdahl, noting the long beard on his face when he stood next to the President.

"The reason why I said that Robert Bergdahl looked like Muslim is that he looks like a Muslim," Fox News Channel host Bill O'Reilly said on his program.

Robert Bergdahl told Time magazine in 2012 that he grew the long beard and studied the Afghan language of Pashto to better understand his son's captors.

Critics of the exchange have also seized on the video released by the Taliban showing Bergdahl being handed over to U.S. forces as evidence that the POW was not in the declining health that administration officials had claimed as an urgent reason for his release.

On Wednesday, senators were given an opportunity to view the "proof of life" video that emerged last January and became the basis for the administration's concerns. A senior U.S. official said the administration is now reviewing whether that video will be made public, as some senators have suggested.

While acknowledging there are still questions to be answered about Bergdahl's capture, administration officials say the freed captive will need to recover from his ordeal before he can fully cooperate with an expected Pentagon investigation into his actions.

"I think we all owe him and his family, regardless of our feelings on this, a little bit of time, so he can get in better health, he can reunite with his family, and then we'll figure out what happened," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters Wednesday. "I think we owe it to him to do that."


Filed under: Bowe Bergdahl • President Obama
soundoff (278 Responses)
  1. KP

    They knew about his capture for 5 years and the only option they had was to release these 5 prisoners? Were any others offered up instead or was it dictated by the Taliban who was to be released in exchange? Could there been a cash exchange instead?

    I understand no man left behind but I question the overall trade. I am trying to grasp how thee were no other options except those 5 for Bergdahl.

    June 5, 2014 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  2. livewiremd

    It is distressing that some people are defending this giant blunder by the president, but it is even more distressing that some of those same people are defending the terrorists as well! Gitmo was not open BEFORE 9-11 so please stop implying that this is what causes terrorists to join the cause. Also, in Gitmo, the prisioners got better food, exercise and medical care than ANY US prisioner got. I don't think that any Korean, Vietnam or World War 2 prisioner ever was given a lawyer or trial (at least until the war was over). Ask John Mc Cainhow much "due process" he got. I guess that if Obama says the terrorists will be nice....it must mean so!! It is time for Congress to start stepping up and doing its duty of checks and balances before it is too late.

    June 5, 2014 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  3. Sniffit

    "There is no trial. He is not a civilian being that nine of his units members and his NCOIC have said he went AWOL his command can hit him being AWOL. Conviction papers? there wouldn`t be any. Trial? No trial. The military system is not even close to the civilian system. The AWOL violation can be handled by his command. This isn`t a "Few Good Men". Military tribunals deal with major offenses like Manning`s case."

    Smith, give it up. The military affords him due process as is his right. Whether it is a court martial or some form of administrative investigation and adjudication, he is afforded some form of due process. The Joint Chiefs quite literally have stated that he is innocent until proven guilty and that the military therefore considers the issue of desertion and the allegations against him as NOT PART OF THE CALCULUS when determining whether a soldier should be brought home. It is to be determined when he gets home, not weighed as part of determining whether to bring him home or not in the first place.

    June 5, 2014 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  4. Marcus (from...?)

    Sniffit – 'They knew about the desertion allegation when they demanded he be rescued, criticized Obama for not having done it yet, expressed sympathy for and solidarity with him and his family, etc. Then, right when he gets rescued, Republican strategists (who used to work for Romney's campaign) suddenly run out and start collecting interviews from his accusers and helping them get their accusations publicized. Seems a bit convenient, eh?'

    'Convenient' it's not the word I'd use in this case, it's too kind.

    June 5, 2014 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  5. Sniffit

    "yes, they got the message loud and clear from obama. they are now in greater danger of being captured and held for ransom"'

    No they're not. That needle was already in the red. They already wanted to capture our soldiers as much as anything could possibly be wanted. If you believe they didn't already want to do so about as much as anyone could possibly want anything in the world, then you're foolish. Quite frankly, if they believe they can get trades and that the soldiers have more value alive than ceremoniously murdered, then they're less likely to just behead the poor guy and send us a gloating video of it.

    June 5, 2014 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  6. Sniffit

    "And there you have it. The only one that talks about race is Sniffit."

    Newsflash: GOP/Teatroll dogwhistles, code-speak and circumlocution don't hide things as well as you think they do.

    June 5, 2014 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  7. rs

    Tim

    Obama's White House continues to be surprised because they are so very out-of-touch with reality and America. Obama is clueless and incompetent.
    _________________________________
    Being tongue-lashed by an ever insane and moral-less GOP hardly makes him incompetent. He should have expected such behavior from the GOP however, their increasing desperation makes it inevitable that they will attack and assail (even an American soldier) if they perceive any gain in it. Truly disgusting behavior from a once proud party of leaders.

    June 5, 2014 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  8. dhmagnet

    I'm a liberal and have not voted for a republican of any ilk in 15 years. Most republicans are selfish, horrible people. Just read these comments if you need proof. BUT!!! I am very angry at this administration for this "deal." Deplorable. Returning five terrorists or would-be terrorists in exchange for one captive American is a shameful act, even if he was a war hero. I wouldn't hire John McCain to run a raffle, but I respect his service and his courage. I bet he would have given his life before he would trade his liberation for five Taliban. I know I would. In a heartbeat. The POTUS has provided an instruction manual to those who hate us for how to get their prisoners freed. This was why we do not negotiate with people like this. I can't imagine what Obama is thinking. I like his social and economic views, but he is obviously a clueless commander-in-chief.

    June 5, 2014 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  9. Lily

    Even the dem poloticians believe O screwed up royally. Why is he shocked. He broke the law he voted for and why would anyone of sympathy for a deserter?

    June 5, 2014 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  10. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    @Sniffit
    "It backfired because King Obama paid too high a price to free a traitor to his county."

    The only "King" was George W. Bush. He was handed the presidency through chicanery in his Brother's State of Florida and a corrupt Supreme Court. Look at the disaster that the simple minded King George left the world to deal with. Sorry my friend. Barack Obama was elected twice, overwhelmingly in fair and democratic elections.

    June 5, 2014 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  11. Marcus (from...?)

    By the way, last time I checked, the Uniform Code of Military Justice is the only law that applies to Bergdahl's current status. He may be accused of desertion or have his AWOL status properly discussed by the competent authority or authorities, he may end up in Leavenworth or just back home... but all will be done according to the UCMJ.
    Not because the media or the GOP or anyone/anything else wants it done 'this' or 'that' way.
    But because the pre-existing rules (UCMJ) that were used at his trial (if he ends up in one) said so.

    June 5, 2014 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  12. rs

    smith

    @Silence and Sniffit- There is no trial. He is not a civilian being that nine of his units members and his NCOIC have said he went AWOL his command can hit him being AWOL. Conviction papers? there wouldn`t be any. Trial? No trial. The military system is not even close to the civilian system. The AWOL violation can be handled by his command. This isn`t a "Few Good Men". Military tribunals deal with major offenses like Manning`s case.
    ____________________________
    I think you'll find a quick look at the Uniform Code of Military Justice will prove you to be in error.

    June 5, 2014 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  13. Sniffit

    Bring bush back

    June 5, 2014 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  14. Anonymous

    Tim

    Obama's White House continues to be surprised because they are so very out-of-touch with reality and America. Obama is clueless and incompetent.
    -----------------------------
    The administration is probably surprised because so many of the harshest critics are on record supporting the idea of prisoner swap and/or encouraging/admonishing the administration to do "everything possible" to effect Bergdaohl's release. It's almost as if the critics have completely forgotten that there are records of what they said in the past.

    June 5, 2014 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  15. asdf

    Really?! You didn't think people would be shocked and angry at you breaking U.S. law by bypassing congress to do a prisoner exchange for a man who is suspected of deserting Mr. President?

    There's no words.

    June 5, 2014 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  16. smith

    @rs-There is a big difference with Bergdahl. There are soliders who were there making the staments unlike with Tillman and Lynch.

    June 5, 2014 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  17. Marcus (from...?)

    smith – 'The AWOL violation can be handled by his command', and so it can't be. It all depends on the circumstances of the AWOL status and of the consequences it brought to others. You pretend that it is already settled that it's up to his command to deal with the thing, or that you can call him a deserter (which you can) and have him being treated as such without a trial (no way in any way you see it under the UCMJ, only AFTER the conviction he can suffer any kind of penalty for his 'desertion', which would be then a conviction) is disingenuous, at best.

    June 5, 2014 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  18. Marcus (from...?)

    asdf – 'Really?! You didn't think people would be shocked and angry at you breaking U.S. law by bypassing congress to do a prisoner exchange for a man who is suspected of deserting Mr. President?'

    The 'who is suspected' says all that is needed about YOUR set of values dude.

    June 5, 2014 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  19. rs

    smith

    @Silence and Sniffit- There is no trial. He is not a civilian being that nine of his units members and his NCOIC have said he went AWOL his command can hit him being AWOL. Conviction papers? there wouldn`t be any. Trial? No trial. The military system is not even close to the civilian system. The AWOL violation can be handled by his command. This isn`t a "Few Good Men". Military tribunals deal with major offenses like Manning`s case.

    ____________________________
    From the Uniform Code of Military Justice:
    866. ART. 86. ABSENCE WITHOUT LEAVE

    Any member of the armed forces who, without authority–

    (1) fails to go to his appointed place of duty at the time prescribed;

    (2) goes from that place; or

    (3) absents himself or remains absent from his unit, organization, or place of duty at which he is required to be at the time prescribed; shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.

    A "court-martial" is a military court, ergo, if there is evidence, Mr. Bergdahl may well face trial. Until then, our system of justice demands he be considered innocent.

    June 5, 2014 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  20. rs

    livewiremd

    It is distressing that some people are defending this giant blunder by the president, but it is even more distressing that some of those same people are defending the terrorists as well! Gitmo was not open BEFORE 9-11 so please stop implying that this is what causes terrorists to join the cause. Also, in Gitmo, the prisioners got better food, exercise and medical care than ANY US prisioner got. I don't think that any Korean, Vietnam or World War 2 prisioner ever was given a lawyer or trial (at least until the war was over). Ask John Mc Cainhow much "due process" he got. I guess that if Obama says the terrorists will be nice....it must mean so!! It is time for Congress to start stepping up and doing its duty of checks and balances before it is too late.
    ____________________________
    Al Qaeda cites the use of Gitmo, and prison without trial as one of their best recruiting tools. Time for you to do your homework-Before it's too late!

    June 5, 2014 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  21. Dead Bear

    Foreign policy is something that shouldn't fall victim to partisan politics. At least Democrats put on a united front when Brainless the Second (Brainless the First being would be Ronald Reagan) trotted this country into 2 simultaneous wars without support, funding, or anything that even resembled a sensible strategy but I guess Republicans are incapable of showing solidarity with this President whatsoever. And here I thought the way they treated Clinton was ridiculous. Seems the GOP never ceases to sink to new lows... And while some of you are in the business of judging Bowe Bergdahl guilty until proven innocent, perhaps I'll put the shoe on the other foot and see how conservatives like it. If his punishment for desertion was being held captive and tortured by Islamic extremist for 5 years, than what would be a suitable punishment for Republican lawmakers who's actions toward our government is downright treasonous???

    June 5, 2014 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  22. rs

    asdf

    Really?! You didn't think people would be shocked and angry at you breaking U.S. law by bypassing congress to do a prisoner exchange for a man who is suspected of deserting Mr. President?

    There's no words.
    ____________________
    Read up on Presidential Signing Statements- there's lots out there. Mr. Bush used more than 500 of them.

    June 5, 2014 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  23. Anonymous

    rs

    smith

    @Silence and Sniffit- There is no trial. He is not a civilian being that nine of his units members and his NCOIC have said he went AWOL his command can hit him being AWOL. Conviction papers? there wouldn`t be any. Trial? No trial. The military system is not even close to the civilian system. The AWOL violation can be handled by his command. This isn`t a "Few Good Men". Military tribunals deal with major offenses like Manning`s case.
    ____________________________
    I think you'll find a quick look at the Uniform Code of Military Justice will prove you to be in error.
    ===============================================================================
    @rs Alternate reality, remember? A Uniform Code means that a libertarian can't do their own thing, however they see fit.

    June 5, 2014 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  24. smith

    @rs-AWOL is a status not a chrage and can be handled within the command. It would be a hearing not a trial. What I stated is correct under the UCMJ.

    June 5, 2014 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  25. Rudy NYC

    dhmagnet

    I'm a liberal and have not voted for a republican of any ilk in 15 years. Most republicans are selfish, horrible people. Just read these comments if you need proof. BUT!!! I am very angry at this administration for this "deal." Deplorable. Returning five terrorists or would-be terrorists in exchange for one captive American is a shameful act, even if he was a war hero.
    ----------------------------–
    Terrorists? Right up until the swap being announced they were described as "enemy combatants", which was a Bushism for prisoners of war. Terrorists? Name me one act of terror that the Taliban has ever committed. You can't. The Taliban was the former government of Afghanistan, which is not the same as Al-Qaeda who have been officially labeled as a terrorist organization.

    June 5, 2014 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
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