June 5th, 2014
08:46 AM ET
9 years 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.

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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. Lisa P.


    Far left extremist "progressive" Democrats.... will defend terrorists, will defend deserters, will defend illegal country invaders, will defend criminals, will defend total incompetence, and yet will not defnd innocent babies from murder.

    I guess we all have our priorities....
    June 5, 2014 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm

    Mine is the Constitution. Yours seems to be some random list of manufactured wedge issues calculated to stir up heated emotions and raise a lawless, screaming mob. Which do you suppose will stand the test of time?

    June 5, 2014 07:24 pm at 7:24 pm |
  2. Logictox

    Goodie goodie goodie, we have a deserter and trader at the cost of five high ranking terrorist. What a swell deal Obama scores! ROFLMAO

    June 5, 2014 08:28 pm at 8:28 pm |
  3. Mike

    It is evident Bergdahl will face court martial. Vegas odds are he will be found guilty of desertion. Releasing 5 extremely dangerous enemy operatives back into the battlefield before a war is over for a probable deserter is at best questionable.

    As a veteran, the only plausible explanation is he was/is a valuable covert operative. My rebuttal to this is the open and notorious news of release. Even that explanation makes little to no sense.

    No less than Leon Panetta (current administration former Secretary of Defense), the CIA, and Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein have expressed concern about this trade. It is currently at best, a smack in the face of all honorably serving soldiers, marines, airmen/women, and sailors. At worst, it is an example of egregious incompetence of the current administration. With what is known at this time, I lean toward an all encompassing screw up.

    June 6, 2014 01:38 am at 1:38 am |
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