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. Silence DoGood

    "The mission to bring our missing soldiers home is one that will never end. It’s important that we make every effort to bring this captured soldier home to his family," Inhofe said in a statement in June, 2013

    June 5, 2014 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  2. Sniffit

    "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."

    Which was no doubt a coping mechanism for his extreme grief. And yet, RWNJs are making death threats to him and the family now and calling up his home town's Chamber of Commerce to make threats and yell and scream about their plans to welcome him home with the usual fanfare afforded any POW returned to us...so the whole thing had to be canceled due to security concerns and fears of violence.

    This is the message that the GOP/Teatrolls are sending to EVERY SINGLE SOLDIER: if you are bargained for by a Commander in Chief that is not a GOPer/Teatroll and we can't take credit for your rescue, then we will destroy you if we believe it will damage the CiC politically, and you will return home to the nation you served as a pariah, convicted in the court of public opinion before any chance to defend yourself, and you may even need to fear for your life.

    June 5, 2014 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  3. grassroot

    Aren't we supposed to favor deserters and enemy collaborators?

    June 5, 2014 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  4. American Worker

    Bringing him home isn't the issue.

    The problem is the release of those who will return to their hostilities and the President's disregard for the Rule of Law.

    June 5, 2014 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  5. Kerry

    Trading 5 severely dangerous terrorists for a deserter who renounced his citizenship is not a good deal. No matter how you look at it. When his fellow soldiers- his brothers- talk about how he deserted his post to join the Taliban, does it not raise a red flag? 6 men died looking for this traitor. The 5 released prisoners will be sure to kill many more as well. Bergdahl will defect to Iran the first chance he gets.

    June 5, 2014 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  6. larry

    I hope this fiasco is the final nail in the coffin for these filthy democrats come November.

    June 5, 2014 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  7. Bill from GA

    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. "

    The left-wing media has been showing taped conversions of various politicians, and also bloggers, even soldiers, praising Bergdahl, even in the days and weeks just before his release. Calling for all efforts to get this brave American back.

    As soon as Obama gets him back, the message changes. Fox even changed from last Saturday to Sunday, from 'Proud to get him back' to 'How dare Obama do this for a traitor'.

    So, do you think that was made up? Or did they all change their minds after Obama got him released? There is no logical reason for the turnabout except hatred of Obama. No politician was against it until Obama did it.

    June 5, 2014 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  8. rs

    Of course the GOP Senators (including Mr. McCain) who were clamoring to get this guy released, would within 12 hours of such a release go one the attack.

    The GOP needs to answer, in the face of their criticism:
    1. What should have been done with Mr. Bergdahl- should he have been left in the hands of the Taliban? Is that what the Right wants?
    2.,What about the POWs in Gitmo? The war ends this year. They need to be repatriated. That is how we treat POWs, that is what the Geneva Accords require. Does the GOP propose we keep Gitmo open indefinitely with these men in it? What about due process?
    3. This POW exchange is clearly tied into the post-war Taliban-Afghan government peace accords (yet to be complete). Does the GOP propose we lose MORE American soldiers by being engaged in Afghanistan on a permanent basis? How do they propose to square that legally, and how doe they propose to pay for it? Make more poor Americans go without support? Take Social Security from our elderly?

    The GOP has lost its mind!

    June 5, 2014 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  9. cometii

    What DOESN'T surprise this White House?

    June 5, 2014 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  10. rs

    larry

    I hope this fiasco is the final nail in the coffin for these filthy democrats come November.
    ______________________
    So, to be clear, you and the Right no longer support our soldiers, believe in due process and want to stay forever in Afghanistan- is that right?

    June 5, 2014 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  11. Sniffit

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

    Congress has ZERO say in this. Make no mistake, that 30 day notice period was nothing but legislated courtesy. Moreover, if indeed there was (and there's evidence accumulating to prove it) even remotely reasonable concern about Bergdahl's deteriorating health making this an emergency, the troop drawdown making this more of an emergency and need to do it quick and any other evidence that the executive branch and military believed this to be a small window of opportunity, then that 30 days notice is an unconstitutional infringement on the POTUS's power as Chief Executive and Commander in Chief. Plain and simple. The GOP/Teatrolls can grumble and complain and send out operatives to try to dig up dirt and smear Bergdahl all they want, but they had NO POWER here.

    June 5, 2014 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  12. Bill from GA

    Bill O'Reilly – "The reason why I said that Robert Bergdahl looked like Muslim is that he looks like a Muslim,"

    I guess if Sarah Palin wore a head scarf, she's look like a Muslim too.

    June 5, 2014 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  13. DMH123

    This article is White House spin. They are trying to change the story from "Obama releases 5 top Taliban in exchange for 1 deserter without notifying congress as he is required to do by law" to "People who disagree with me are harsh". Pathetic.

    June 5, 2014 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  14. Jerry

    Lets see how fast those speaking out disappear like seal team six

    June 5, 2014 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  15. CShaffer

    There is no new information about Bergdahl that wasn't known years ago. And yet the same people who are criticizing this deal were clamoring for his release right up until his release. What suddenly changed? Here's what. When Obama discussed this with republican leaders a few years ago, they warned him that if he did this release in an election year they would retaliate. Well this is an election year and the GOP, through their propaganda arm Fox, are retaliating. I am not surprised by that, but I am surprised that the Fox crowd is attacking Berdahl, his family , and now his home town based on nothing but gossip and talking points from Fox. I am especially surprised by the Vets who have chosen petty politics over one of their own. I am also disappointed by CNN's coverage. CNN you are better then this. Stop being a Fox wanna be and start being the news organization you used to be and could be again.

    June 5, 2014 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  16. rs

    Kerry

    Trading 5 severely dangerous terrorists for a deserter who renounced his citizenship is not a good deal. No matter how you look at it. When his fellow soldiers- his brothers- talk about how he deserted his post to join the Taliban, does it not raise a red flag? 6 men died looking for this traitor. The 5 released prisoners will be sure to kill many more as well. Bergdahl will defect to Iran the first chance he gets.
    _____________________________
    And what about the 500 prisoners Bush released – or were they just boy scouts? Everyone was demanding this guy's release- and now you crazies are screaming that he's back. The Face it: You don't care about our soldiers, our military, or the events or people in Afghanistan- you just care about your sick anti-American political games and being able to whine about the President of the United States..
    You people are delusional!

    June 5, 2014 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  17. Jamal

    Par for the Obama golf game.

    June 5, 2014 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  18. rs

    American Worker

    Bringing him home isn't the issue.

    The problem is the release of those who will return to their hostilities and the President's disregard for the Rule of Law.
    __________________________
    The deal is, the 5 are to be held out of Afghanistan by the Qatari government until after the end of the war in Afghanistan- what hostilities are they returning to? As fare as the President- he cited the signing statement he added to the law that required 30 prior notification of Congress. You might remember Mr. Bush made well more than 500 such signing statements to ovoid parts of laws he disagreed with. Meanwhile, as recently as March 5- Senator John McCain was supportive of such a deal "if it could be made".

    This is simply raw Republican game playing- again.

    June 5, 2014 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  19. just asking

    let's see.... obama releases five of the most dangerous taliban terrorists from gitmo, without notifying congress as the law requires and as they had repeatedly said they would, to exchange for a deserter. he does so against the recommendations of the military and intelligence agencies who believe these people to still be a very real threat to this country, its citizens and its military. so they spit in everybody's face and try to tell them it is raining. and they are shcoked by the reaction? it only goes to show everybody just how incompetent and out of touch with reality the obama administration is. scary out of touch.

    June 5, 2014 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  20. londonbach

    Obama & his coterie were aware of Bergdahl's treason and went ahead the plan–knowing Bergdahl's treason would explode across all media–to disguise the EPA engineered brown-out of the U.S.A. All propaganda all the time from here on in. Welcome to Obama's Brave New World of darkness. Obama = Death.

    June 5, 2014 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  21. rs

    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!
    ______________________
    Time to face reality Rick- You and the GOP have completely lost touch with reality.

    June 5, 2014 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  22. Impeach Obama

    Please Congress.... End this lawless leftist regime that tramples our laws at will and endangers every one of us with its lawless, reckless actions. Please start impeachment proceedings before this goes any further. It is the ONLY way to stop it.

    June 5, 2014 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  23. buckster81161

    He was not taken captive by the Taliban. He left his post and was found looking for English speaking Taliban members shortly thereafter. We lost 6 people as they searched for this individual. Others were injured. We now have released 5 harden terrorist, upwards to 5-6 million in cash, and have paved the way for others to be detained in hopes of getting money / people in trades. Others will die because of this.

    June 5, 2014 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  24. Tampa Tim

    American Worker
    Bringing him home isn't the issue.

    The problem is the release of those who will return to their hostilities and the President's disregard for the Rule of Law.
    ----
    Yet you had no problem 500 Gitmo detainees being released under W. You were not concerned that they may return to their hostilities. As for breaking the law, the president can negotiate to bring home American soldiers, that is not Fox News responsibility.

    June 5, 2014 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  25. rs

    Janet Nappylotto

    Didn't Obama promise to close Guantanamo back in 2008?
    ___________________
    Check with the Congressional GOP- they have effectively blocked that by preventing any of those held getting trials in U.S. Courts.

    June 5, 2014 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
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