June 5th, 2014
08:46 AM ET
7 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. Tom l

    Are Sniffit and rs really trying to tell a soldier who fought on Iraq (smith) military protocol?

    June 5, 2014 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  2. smith

    @rs-Key phrase" may direct" may! Keyword in my statement "can"be handled by his command.

    June 5, 2014 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  3. Tom l

    We should have never been in either place in the first place bit we're there now. The toothpaste is out of the tube. It sure appears by every rational account that Bergdahl left. It seems pretty obvious. That's irrelevant as far as whether we should rescue Bergdahl. We should. But you guys saying he's innocent until proven guilty are very correct. Just like OJ. The facts appear to be so astoundingly obvious from all accounts that you would think the gang would stop with that mantra.

    June 5, 2014 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  4. Donna

    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 |
  5. Sniffit

    "@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"

    Psssst: I was quoting someone else and responding to it. I wasn't the one who said that.

    June 5, 2014 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  6. Joe Sixpack

    Bergdahl had walked out of camp before because, he told several comrades, he was unhappy with what being a soldier in Afghanistan involved (more guns, less Peace Corps, apparently). The second time (when he didn't come back) he left a note saying why he was deserting, left behind his gun, helmet and body armor, and was asking for a translator so he could talk to the Taliban. The "poor health" story is completely disproved by several videos of him, including the last one during the detainee exchange. There is far more more evidence in support of his being a willing member of the Taliban camp (i.e., a traitor) than in support of the incoherent WH story, There is overwhelming evidence that he deserted his post. Without doubt, his ex-comrades were ordered to look for him and some may have died as a result. Finally, Obama rejected an earlier idea that Berghdal's "freedom" be purchased; he wanted a detainee exchange. Why? Because Bergdahl was just an excuse to further empty out Gitmo. If the Taliban had been willing to take them, he would have given them **all** the Gitmo detainees. He wants to close Gitmo and doesn't care if that means releasing the worst of the worst. Obama is not incompetent; he just pursues what he thinks is in his best interest, never America's.

    June 5, 2014 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  7. Sniffit

    "Are Sniffit and rs really trying to tell a soldier who fought on Iraq (smith) military protocol?"

    LOL. Again, I don't need to. First, I think it pretty obvious I conceded that I'm not sure what the particular process is, just that there IS a process. Second, I don't think anyone needs any explanation of any process particulars when you have the Joint Chiefs explicitly stating that he's innocent until proven guilty and that the allegations do not weigh against his "worth" when determining whether to bring him home.

    June 5, 2014 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  8. Sniffit

    "yet will not defnd innocent babies from murder."

    Aaaaand scene.

    Thus concludes today's dramatic episode of "All My Bubble."

    June 5, 2014 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  9. SophieRo

    Bergdahl was not held by the Taliban. He was held by the Haqqani Network, which Obama designated a terrorist organisation in 2012.

    June 5, 2014 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  10. Marcus (from...?)

    '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.'

    'Can' is different than 'will' or 'must' or...
    Acting like 'can' equals to 'will' or 'must' or... and then pretend that you didn't, is double-standard.

    June 5, 2014 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  11. Rudy NYC

    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.
    ---------------------------–
    I'll bet you ten thousand Romney bucks that Bergdahl gets a court martial.

    June 5, 2014 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  12. sonny chapman

    Surprised at backlash ? Face it, Obama could be pictured kissing his daughters Good Night & Fox News & Repubs. would say he's doing it wrong.

    June 5, 2014 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  13. bobo

    Just do the investigation please! This guy was a deserter and 6 people died looking for him! Plus.... he may have worked WITH the Taliban!

    June 5, 2014 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  14. The Elephant in the Room

    Obama did the proper thing . . . you bring the soldier home . . . every single soldier, every single time. That is one of the oldest contracts that this government has. It is especially relevant when our Army is all volunteer instead of draft-based. Who would sign up if they could be left behind on a PRETENSE.

    For those claiming improper actions by Bergdahl, the time to address that is after he is on American soil and under the due process of the military code of conduct / justice.

    I am amazed that so-called conservatives don`t get this.

    June 5, 2014 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  15. smith

    @Tom l-Thank you. To be fair to rs and sniffit there are many different routes the case could go. IMO, I see it being handled by his command but he could request a court martial or the Pentagon might drop it all together. During my time in the service I saw two cases of AWOL and both were handled in the command.

    June 5, 2014 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  16. Tom

    The Taliban connection contacts the WH: We are willing to exchange a captured American soldier for captured Taliban prisoners. The WH thinks through the possibilities...please make a selection.
    A. This is a political windfall – we get to present ourselves as always working on behalf of our soldiers.
    B. This will take the VA Hospital waiting lists and the deaths of two service members resulting from poor care at the Ft. Bragg hospital off the front page.
    C. If we don't advise the Congress we won't have to share the spotlight in what is sure to be a "standing ovation."
    D. All of the above.

    June 5, 2014 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  17. Sniffit

    "For those claiming improper actions by Bergdahl, the time to address that is after he is on American soil and under the due process of the military code of conduct / justice.

    I am amazed that so-called conservatives don`t get this."

    They get it. They're liars and cheats and opportunists, though, so the rules go out the window if it means they'd have to allow Obama a "win" on something.

    June 5, 2014 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  18. Anthony

    Tom I, what is your point? Bergdahl is innocent until proven guilty. It does not matter if the facts are astoundingly obvious. If we deny him his process because the facts are astoundingly obvious, then "innocent until proven guilty" is just an empty slogan.

    We have a system of justice in America. We have military courts for military personnel. Bergdahl is an American, and he deserves due process. We don't convict him in the court of public opinion, certainly not when a foreign-owned corporation is doing the prosecuting. Yes, I am talking about Fox News.

    June 5, 2014 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  19. Rudy NYC

    Donna

    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.
    -----------------------------
    Far right extremist conservatives will defend domestic terrorists who point guns at government employees, will defend tax evaders, will defend criminal behavior within their own ranks, will defend total ignorance, and yet will not defend innocent school children from being murdered in their classrooms.

    FIFY

    June 5, 2014 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  20. Anonymous

    bobo
    Just do the investigation please! This guy was a deserter and 6 people died looking for him! Plus.... he may have worked WITH the Taliban!
    --

    Yes, I'm sure the Obama administration will aggressively pursue an investigation that makes them look like complete idiots should he be proven a deserter and/or a collaborator. I mean, all the other investigations they currently have going for 5.5 years now are all going so well and producing results, right?

    June 5, 2014 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  21. Lynda/Minnesota

    "I am amazed that so-called conservatives don`t get this."

    Apparently it is the new American justice to have folks first tried in the court of public opinion. Those that side with the opinionated majority percentage can continue to speak out. Those that side with the opinionated minority percentage should remain silent.

    Speaking for myself, I would hate to be the one being publicly judged thus. Under ANY circumstance.

    June 5, 2014 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  22. smith

    @Rudy-You could be right. However, if handled by his command there would no press, no testimony, and he would likely just get an other than honorable or dishonorable discharge.

    June 5, 2014 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  23. Sniffit

    Thanks for the summary of where all the GOP/Teatroll conspiracy theories are headed, Joe Sixpack. We're all waiting with baited breath for the Breitbarts and Becks of the world to start spouting them in unison like a gospel reading.

    June 5, 2014 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  24. tom l

    rs is on fire today! Remember, either you're with us or you're with the terrori, errrrrrrrrr enemy combat, errrrrrr Talib, errrrrrrrrr enemy combatants – as if there really is a difference between any of those terms. Once again, rs can tell us who the real patriots are, just like a certain someone who used to live in the White House who used to tell us if we didn't agree with him we were with the terrorists.

    How is rs any different? He's not. He's just a partisan dude who must prove the democrats are superior to the repubs!

    June 5, 2014 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  25. Your comment is awaiting deletion if it doesn't support Obama

    Hmmm.... give up five top leaders in an organization you are actively fighting in a war, for a likely deserter and/or collaborator??? Who, with more than 50 live brain cells does such a thing?! They could have done this AFTER the war ended and all the troops were home. What was the rush to get a deserter home? Oh yeah, get the VA scandal off the front pages.

    June 5, 2014 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
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