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)

    As the right-wing echo chamber ramps up about how horrible it is that five Guantanamo Bay detainees have been freed, let’s remember that 520 Gitmo detainees were released under George W. Bush.

    Bush gave $43 million to Taliban 4 months before 9/11

    The Bush administration gave this money to the Taliban with the full knowledge that Osama Bin Laden was in Afghanistan operating his Al Qaeda terror network. To make matters worse Bin Laden had already launched the 1998 attacks on our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania which left 225 people dead and injured more than 4,000. If that wasn't bad enough Bin Laden had also ordered the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole which left 17 sailors dead along with another 39 injured. Had Bush forgotten that President Clinton had bombed Bin Ladens terrorist camps in Afghanistan in retaliation for these attacks ? The Bush administration also conveniently ignored the fact that the Taliban brutally oppressed the female population of Afghanistan. The Taliban also tortured and executed it's opponents and required religious minorities to wear clothing that marked them as non Muslims which was similar to what the NAZI's had done to the Jews , Gypsies, and Gays.

    In the end it turned out that the Taliban had fooled the Bush administration because instead of banning Opium in reality the Taliban had actually increased the production of opium.

    June 5, 2014 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  2. Rick McDaniel

    Why should they be shocked..........they should have expected the backlash, when they tried to orchestrate yet another monstrous lie, to cover them for breaking the law, and doing something totally WRONG!

    Sending Rice out to spread another total lie, about their behaviors, was really STUPID! Everyone in America knew the truth about Bergdahl. Spinning a total lie was the dumbest of the dumb.

    June 5, 2014 09:05 am at 9:05 am |
  3. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    Mr. President, first of all, I adore you and your wonderful family but you really need to recognize the level of hatred at you and anyone in your family, including your beautiful little girls. This is a country where our ancestors were routinely sold, beaten, raped and tortured. And the majority of the country wanted it to remain that way. Some wish it was still that way today.

    From 1865 until 1965 we had absolutely no rights at all and many in this country fought to ensure we never had any. However some wanted us to and the Civil Rights Act was born, however many still harbored deep resentment toward us.

    But things were ok until you dared think you could become POTUS. Fox News has been spreading the lies and hatred about you from the day you beat Hillary in the primaries. I saw many an interview where whites were calling you the N word and saying they would never vote for an N. Between Fox and the Tea Party claiming your birth certificate was fake and then playing on the fears of many narrow minded people they have convinced many that you're the devil incarnate. Nothing you or Michelle do will ever be accepted. If the GOP supported it at one time, once you support it they are against it. So please stop trying to be fair with them, they will never be with you. Remember Mr. President, they hate you and cannot wait until you're out of office. And if the dems lose the Senate this year, they will spend the next 2 years looking through strawberry patches for something to impeach you on.

    Be safe Mr. President and God bless and keep you and your family safe.

    I know I was prepared for some hatred of you but not even I saw this level of sickness coming and it pains me too. It has completely changed the way I look at people.

    June 5, 2014 09:13 am at 9:13 am |
  4. Ali

    Does anybody actually cares what the desperate Republicans have to say? I don't. Well Done Mr. President. Welcome home soldier!

    June 5, 2014 09:16 am at 9:16 am |
  5. Gurgyl

    --Obama, I tell you, nothing wrong with this, nevertheless there is a swap involved. Where were these idiots when Reagan sold millions of arms and ammunition to Iran? Where were these pigs when illegal war took place and Iraq, Afghanistan killed millions and drained trillions while Bin Laden was sleeping happily in Pakistan that collected 30 billion yearly of tax payer dollar–quit your race rant. Grow up.

    June 5, 2014 09:16 am at 9:16 am |
  6. Anonymous

    What a sorry bunch of idiots.

    June 5, 2014 09:17 am at 9:17 am |
  7. Name JK. SFL. THE GOP HOWDEE GOWDEE SHOW with special guest ISSA the CLOWN

    SHUT UP GOP , your as disloyal an American as you claim the soldier was an your credibility is about the SAME!!!!!!

    June 5, 2014 09:17 am at 9:17 am |
  8. Malory Archer

    The war is over and these five individuals – along with EVERYONE ELSE in Guantanamo – would have been released free and clear in a few months anyways. The condition of their release states they will be in supervised custody in Qatar for one year – something that wouldn't have happened if they were released a few month from now. Additionally, they've been held incommunicado for the last 10+ years. They're damaged goods, both physically and mentally due to their time in U.S. custody. Even if they DO attempt to make contact with their old allies they're in no condition to go back to the "battlefield", and they'll be greeted with the same suspicion as Bergdahl is experiencing. Additionally, the previous administration had a very broad definition of "battlefield". Entire villages and regions were declared "battlefields" and the U.S. was paying local nationals to turn in the "enemy". Some made big bucks turning in those with whom they had personal grudges, or ousting one tribal leader in favor of another. There are more than a few prisoners in Guantanamo whose only "crime" was being a male between 15 & 60 years of age.

    June 5, 2014 09:20 am at 9:20 am |
  9. Miami Mike

    A. Obama blatantly broke the law by releasing prisoners from Guantanamo without Congresional approval as required by law.

    B. The guy we got back was a deserter. The military is traditionally a "band of brothers" that care for their own, but they all have pretty much abandoned this guy as a traitor.

    C. With the VA scandal closing in on him, Obama pulls this "publicity stunt" that blows up in his face.

    The United States is Obama us a total trainwreck. He needs to just ride out the rest of his term in a quiet part if the White House because everything he does just makes it worse.

    June 5, 2014 09:26 am at 9:26 am |
  10. Lynda/Minnesota

    "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."

    No surprise for me. We are no longer held accountable for what we say. Indeed. We remain anonymous even when we dare say the most vile things to one another under the guise of "political free speech".

    The bigger question is do those who attack, lie, mock, ridicule even believe half of what they spout? If they don't, we've reached uncharted territory which will in all likelihood be the downfall of America as we know it.

    No one can survive 24/7 media induced assaults and remain sane.

    June 5, 2014 09:27 am at 9:27 am |
  11. Babyboomer

    @Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross... I couldn't have said it better myself. Your comments are spot on and these past 6 years have also "Completely changed the way I look at people.."

    June 5, 2014 09:29 am at 9:29 am |
  12. eloc35

    How are the events of what Bergdahl did still murky?

    He either left on his own or was a POW, which one is it?

    The White knows!!!

    June 5, 2014 09:29 am at 9:29 am |
  13. eloc35

    *The White House knows!!

    June 5, 2014 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  14. Janet Nappylotto

    Didn't Obama promise to close Guantanamo back in 2008?

    June 5, 2014 09:34 am at 9:34 am |
  15. Paul

    Love this now here again we will have Obama saying "I was not informed" excuse for letting go 5 people who enjoy nothing more than killing people. Now we also have a deserter (Ok supposed but listen to the guys in his outfit and he is a deserter) whose disappearance caused the death of 6 fellow troopers which is grounds for the death penalty and if found guilty should get the death penalty.
    As far as Obama goes he should be rotting in prison by now he has totally trashed the Constitution and what it stands for. I just wish Congress and the Senate would do just that but we will never see that happen....

    June 5, 2014 09:36 am at 9:36 am |
  16. Andrew

    So, what sort of calculation do we have to do to get a soldier back? He was a good guy so we should do everything we can? No, no! he was a deserter so let him rot. You do everything you can to bring your men home. Let military justice sort out if he is a deserter or not. But, you bring them home! It is pretty disgusting to watch people question the guy and his family. "the Dad looks like a muslim." Who cares? His son has been missing for 5 years! No one knows what that would do to their psychological makeup! Celebrate the fact a family is reunited.

    June 5, 2014 09:36 am at 9:36 am |
  17. freedom

    Wait til impeachment hearings begin....

    June 5, 2014 09:36 am at 9:36 am |
  18. Hector Slagg

    The biggest mistake here is the Obama Administration didn't consult with Congress first. The second biggest mistake is Obama doesn't consult with the Congress, read that (People) on anything. Which once again begs the Question? Is Obama just Arrogant or Incompetent ??? Some here are also??????

    June 5, 2014 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  19. Learn your history

    Prisoner exchanges were conducted under president's Carter, Bush sr., Reagan, and Clinton. Just because Obama does the same thing he's a lier. People need to know their history before they open their mouths...

    June 5, 2014 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  20. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    Babyboomer says:
    June 5, 2014 09:29 am at 9:29 am
    @Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross… I couldn’t have said it better myself. Your comments are spot on and these past 6 years have also “Completely changed the way I look at people..”

    The saddest part is I was raised in a small town the first 13 years of my life and there was never any racism. My friends were black and white, it never mattered to me. I've always had many friends of different races but these past 6 years have me questioning even those that I have known and loved for years. It pains me so much to read the hatred directed at these wonderful people daily. But if I have to choose sides, I'm sticking with mine!

    June 5, 2014 09:40 am at 9:40 am |
  21. sonny chapman

    The American Public & certain Political "Leaders" are attacking an American Combat Soldier. Shades of Vietnam. TY Fox News.

    June 5, 2014 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  22. misterg

    Those Duck guys look like Taliban too, I never heard any complaints from the right

    June 5, 2014 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  23. Joan

    The Republicans are so upset because they say the five prisoners released from Gitmo will kill many Americans. How do they know? Are they psychic? They would have been released next year anyway with no American prisoner in return. These five will probably be watched VERY carefully by American secret services and if they as much as pick their noses they will know it. Drones can take you out in a second. Also, do the Republicans know how many people many have been killed and damage done with the arms that Reagan gave to Iran? They seem to conveniently forget about those kinds of things. This POW is home and being treated. Shouldn't he at least have been given some privacy before l he was charged by Republicans and many in the MSM as a traitor and coward? These same Republicans had been pushing for his release earlier. It has come out that the soldiers who have been discrediting him are being represented by a firm that has a Republican strategist working for it. Sound like a coincidence??? No!! Maybe there are some soldiers who served with him who can give the other side of the story too. Maybe he wasn't as bad as these guys are saying. You don't think they might be playing politics do you?

    June 5, 2014 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  24. Harry101

    What question the king's dicisiion well the left can just not allow that. By all means end coverage of this another exercise in lets say leadership by decree.

    June 5, 2014 09:47 am at 9:47 am |
  25. Lynda/Minnesota

    "It pains me so much to read the hatred directed at these wonderful people daily ... "

    They've held up so well in spite of it all, haven't they? Grace. Courage. Laughter.

    June 5, 2014 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
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