June 5th, 2014
08:46 AM ET
8 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. Lizzie

    Malory Archer and company............Keep you words short and sweet, you may have to eat them

    June 5, 2014 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  2. smith

    Well when Susan Rice and the liberal media comes out and lies about Bergdahl (saying he served with duty and honor when he went AWOL) what do you expect. Once again(i.e. Benghazi), the WH throws fodder at the american people.

    June 5, 2014 09:53 am at 9:53 am |
  3. Puppy Suprise

    Not surprised he was surprised. Seems to be surprised on a regular basis that there are issues or scandals, that he does not seem to find out about until after the fact. I think the people around him keep him in the dark and I do not know how his heart takes it. Seriously I want him to finish strong, who knows how he can do it. To be honest if I were him I would be rather tempted to pull a Cartman, "Screw you guys, I'm going home." I can't say I would blame him if he gave the county a one finger salute with both hands and walked out.

    June 5, 2014 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
  4. smith

    @Sonny- A coward who went AWOL. FIFY! smh

    June 5, 2014 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  5. Obama, please leave already!!

    Obama the Wimp strikes again!

    June 5, 2014 09:59 am at 9:59 am |
  6. Gurgyl

    USA should have sent Lindsey, Rubio instead of these five. These five are on tax payer dollars eating free food, medical attention in Gittmo. Too bad, Pres. Obama ignored this.

    June 5, 2014 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  7. foreverflag

    When are the Dems going to represent the American people instead of their party mantra. How do you look in the mirror and chant the party line even if it is crazy. How about some ethics and honor amongst the theives

    June 5, 2014 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  8. The Duke

    You didn't think people would be upset trading 5 terrorist leaders for a guy who deserted, not to mention the 6 men who died searching for him? Clueless and unprepared has replaced hope and change as the mantra of the Obama administration.

    June 5, 2014 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  9. Jake

    Anyone notice how Bill O'Rilley looks just like Adolph Hitler? Try it.... draw the mustache on him.

    June 5, 2014 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  10. Too Scruffy

    If you disagree with Obama, you are labelled a racist, hater, and a TeaBagger. The 49% who did not vote for him has grown to 60% now who disapprove of his job performance. Racism, hate, and Tea Party has increased by 11% in less than two years? Maybe, just maybe, people are waking up to the lack of truth from this man.

    June 5, 2014 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  11. Malory Archer

    Lizzie

    Malory Archer and company............Keep you words short and sweet, you may have to eat them

    +++++++++++++

    Oh dear, someone clearly didn't read the comment before replying.

    Okay Lizzy, what SHOULD the U.S. do with all those prisoners in Guantanamo? It's illegal to hold them once the war is over and many of them have never been charged with a crime, much less tried and convicted. I realize I'm grasping at straws in thinking you can comprehend issues beyond the most rudimentary black/white, us/them mindset, but thinking people understand that it's better to have them under supervised release for a year than to have them just walk away a few months from now. What would YOU do with all the detainees in Guantanamo if you didn't plan to release them, Lizzie?

    June 5, 2014 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  12. Lizzie

    Gurgyl
    USA should have sent Lindsey, Rubio instead of these five. These five are on tax payer dollars eating free food, medical attention in Gittmo. Too bad, Pres. Obama ignored this.
    .... And there I thought, they been starved, no medical attention, no Koran to read, kept in isolation, being abused every day.

    June 5, 2014 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  13. Chris-E...al

    I we would do good to have at ready a nice pair of rubber boots .

    June 5, 2014 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  14. Democrat turned Republican

    Why are they surprised, people tend to get upset when you decide to ignore the law. Not to mention this is the first time we have traded terrorist for the release of anyone. Even as dumb as Obama is he stated they could go back to being terrorist.
    "Geee ya think". Bottom line once again Obama shows he is totally incompetent and does not understand even basic diplomacy. Not to mention this guy walked away from his unit and deserted. Yet we have have a good Marine in a Mexican jail, and Obama has done nothing for him. I despise this sad excuse for a human and president.

    June 5, 2014 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  15. drlaura

    I don't understand the media vitriol directed towards someone who was a terrorist hostage for 5 years, nor do I understand the comments about his family. I can imagine the joy of being able to return to your family and country after 5 years a captive, to then come back to your fellow soldiers disparaging you and politicians feeding the fuel of anger for political gain? It is shameful. Regardless of whether Bergdahl was honorable or not, he was a soldier, a citizen, and likely in a vulnerable mental condition after being held hostage this long.

    June 5, 2014 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  16. American Worker

    The U.S. Presidency is an 'Executor' role. It must consult, advise, and respect the the advice it gets.

    President Obama should not be managing the Executive Branch like it's an imperial authority that can act unilaterally.

    June 5, 2014 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  17. JC

    I love how the response is " they really aren't upset. It's just another way to get back at the president." Nobody is allowed to ever disagree with Obama, or they're labelled a racist or an ultra conservative. Then why are several democrats talking against this deal? Are they now racist? The proof of life video came in January, and it took 5 months to orchestrate the deal, yet the administration is saying that they didn't have time to give congress 30 days notice. Technically you could have given notice 4 times before he was released. And while Obama is right that every previous war ended with a POW transfer, those previous wars came with a peace treaty. I not aware of any peace deals with the Taliban or Al Qaeda. To them the war will never be over. So sending these 5 top level members back to a group that doesn't acknowledge peace is uber dangerous. Plain and simple.

    June 5, 2014 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  18. American Worker

    This is the kind of disorder that happens in communities where the Police Chief believes that he is also the Mayor and the City Council.

    June 5, 2014 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  19. Silence DoGood

    conservatives then "Do anything to bring him home. Why doesn't Obama DO something." (cue tears)
    conservatives now "Why did you bring him home? How COULD you?" (cue um, more tears)

    June 5, 2014 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  20. Malory Archer

    drlaura

    I don't understand the media vitriol directed towards someone who was a terrorist hostage for 5 years, nor do I understand the comments about his family. I can imagine the joy of being able to return to your family and country after 5 years a captive, to then come back to your fellow soldiers disparaging you and politicians feeding the fuel of anger for political gain? It is shameful. Regardless of whether Bergdahl was honorable or not, he was a soldier, a citizen, and likely in a vulnerable mental condition after being held hostage this long.

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    I'm wondering what his mental condition was prior to his deserting. Did he seek mental health services prior to walking away that day? Why is nobody asking that question?

    June 5, 2014 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  21. The REAL Truth...

    @American Worker – President Obama should not be managing the Executive Branch like it's an imperial authority that can act unilaterally.
    ------------------------------–
    Maybe's he tired of the Party of "NO!" refusing to budge on anything he wants.. LITERALLY..The GOP has even filibustered THEIR OWN LEGISLATION if Obama has show the slightest amount of support for it. They've shut down the Govt, caused our debt rating to be downgraded, blocked VA benefits bills, and haven't passed a viable budget in 6 yrs..
    ergo; FAIL !!

    June 5, 2014 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  22. Malory Archer

    JC

    I love how the response is " they really aren't upset. It's just another way to get back at the president."

    +++++++++++++++++++++

    Yeah, except if they really WERE upset, their heads would have exploded long before this prisoner exchange as it's been going on since the beginning of American history. John McCain is one example. During the previous occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue's eight-year reign of error, more than 500 Guantanamo detainees were released without so much as a squeak from the left or right! The "anger" being displayed is just another example of the blatant hypocrisy of the right.

    June 5, 2014 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  23. Malory Archer

    The REAL Truth...

    @American Worker – President Obama should not be managing the Executive Branch like it's an imperial authority that can act unilaterally.
    ----------–
    Maybe's he tired of the Party of "NO!" refusing to budge on anything he wants.. LITERALLY..The GOP has even filibustered THEIR OWN LEGISLATION if Obama has show the slightest amount of support for it. They've shut down the Govt, caused our debt rating to be downgraded, blocked VA benefits bills, and haven't passed a viable budget in 6 yrs..
    ergo; FAIL !!

    +++++++++++++++++++++++

    I'm glad he developed a backbone in his second term and if finally standing up to the obstructionists on the right who vowed on election day 2008 to make him fail. Maybe things will start to get done now!

    June 5, 2014 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  24. Silence DoGood

    Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) — the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee — U.S. “must make every effort to bring this captured soldier home to his family.”

    Oh wait – we make trouble for Obama after he does what we asked.

    There were a number of GOP tweets celebrating the release until they were told to Get In Line.
    They were deleted.

    June 5, 2014 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  25. Lynda/Minnesota

    "What would YOU do with all the detainees in Guantanamo if you didn't plan to release them, Lizzie?"

    These two longest wars in our history are a bit much for some folks to digest coherently. That the wars were the two most disorganized and baffling wars in history (from start to finish) only adds to their confusion.

    Apparently the GOP has found their scapegoat to lash out at: a guy held in captivity for 5 years.

    June 5, 2014 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
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