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. Tampa Tim

    Now that Bergdahl has been tried and convicted by Fox News and the Republican Party, there is no reason for the military to actually find out what happened.

    June 5, 2014 11:09 am at 11:09 am |

    What is president Obama/Susan Rice's plan against the ACTION of the FIVE DANGEROUS and HIGH PROFILE TERRORISTS after they back to their home? This is not power game, but American safety matter.

    June 5, 2014 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  3. Lisa P.


    Aren't we supposed to favor deserters and enemy collaborators?
    June 5, 2014 10:37 am at 10:37 am

    Yes, to the extent that we consider them innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. But I guess that's not really favoritism since we're supposed to do that for anyone accused of a crime. Funny how that works. Even funnier how certain people who claim to love our Constitution tend to forget that part when it doesn't fit their liking. For example, how long have those supposed terrorists in Guantanamo been waiting for a "speedy" trial? By our own oh so conveniently forgotten founding principles everyone left in Gitmo ought to be released now for the abuses they have already suffered as captives of the lawless Bush regime; instead we only let out five, with conditions, and get back the only American soldier in enemy hands. I would say that's a pretty good bargain under the circumstances.

    June 5, 2014 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  4. cmml

    Obama is surprised at the backlash? Really?

    You break the law to trade 5 highly dangerous terrorists for a deserter who hates America and you don't understand why people are upset?

    Shows how disconnected Obama is with the rest of America

    June 5, 2014 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  5. Sniffit

    " 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."'

    Absolutely, 100% WRONG. WRONG. WRONG. WRONG. You have now proven you haven't the slightest clue what is really going on or that you're simply willing to lie through your teeth.

    June 5, 2014 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  6. buckster81161

    So lets be clear. We do not ever negotiate with terrorist. The moment you start that people will be picked up daily by terrorist to get something in a trade. It is a path that has been avoided through out our history. This man deserted his post and went in search of English speaking Taliban members. He spoke of his hatred of the armed services. His father boasted of getting people out of Gitmo. We are saving who? A man that appears to have joined a terrorist organization? A man responsible for up to 6 deaths in their search for him. Now we have returned some of the worst terrorist to their group. Others will die because of this. So to be clear the right does not support negotiating with terrorist, the same as the left has felt for the past 100 years.

    June 5, 2014 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  7. rs


    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.
    I must have missed it- what were the dates of Mr. Bergdahl's trial for desertion and treason? When was he convicted?

    By the way- Congress knew full well a deal was in the works. March 5 THIS YEAR (well before the notification period) Mr. McCain supported such a deal.

    June 5, 2014 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  8. rs


    What is president Obama/Susan Rice's plan against the ACTION of the FIVE DANGEROUS and HIGH PROFILE TERRORISTS after they back to their home? This is not power game, but American safety matter.
    They aren't "going home". They are guests of the Qatari government until after the end of the war in Afghanistan.

    June 5, 2014 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  9. Sniffit

    "Check with the Congressional GOP- they have effectively blocked that by preventing any of those held getting trials in U.S. Courts."'

    Not to mention refusing to provide the funding for anything that even smacks of closing Gitmo. This includes many a spineless Dem who are too afraid that allowing it to be closed would damage their ability to get re-elected.

    June 5, 2014 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  10. Tampa Tim

    So, according to Bill O'Reilly, Duck Dynasty is made up of Muslims.

    June 5, 2014 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  11. rs

    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.
    In your dreams. Your delusions do not equal facts for a court of impeachment. Really? You guys tried this on Clinton. Is this the new GOP play book? Work against the elected President of the United States for 6 years, then launch a coup using impeachment as a reason?

    June 5, 2014 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  12. a little sad

    I don't know if Bergdahl was a deserter or not, the military will make the call.

    But the only reason he was in the position to be a deserter is because at one point he made the decision to serve his country in the military.

    I wonder how many of the posters here denigrating him were as patriotic and joined the military? (Proud grandaughter, daughter, sister and aunt to the 13 members of my family who are either veterans or still in active service.)

    June 5, 2014 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  13. Name. willard

    Susan rice hillary clinton and presdient obama are keep liar story what happened about benghizina also hillary clinton will keep out of damage of middle east

    June 5, 2014 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  14. Tampa Tim

    Like the vast majority of Americans, I find the Republican Party disgusting and vile.

    June 5, 2014 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  15. Gurgyl

    -let me advise to the most horrible, idiotic congress, these obamacare, VA, birth certificate, Berdahl tricks are NOT workable. Why not you pass JOBS-BILL??

    June 5, 2014 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  16. KEITH

    I hate to sound unfeeling, but this person by all account walked away from his post on his own and put his fellow solders in danger to join the Taliban. plus the swap of the TOP members of a terrorist group, who are probably madder then heck they have been stored away, could very well turn around and cost up hundreds maybe thousands of lifes, and to do all this without consulting your intelligence agencies (NOT to smart Mr Presidet)

    June 5, 2014 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  17. rs

    The GOP has now entered their overt post-reality phase of their self-destruction.

    June 5, 2014 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  18. Silence DoGood

    reality: Conservatives demand POW return at any cost – it happens – there may be a trial for him
    Conspiracy theory 1 – conservatives are totally surprised and shocked by trade for 5 terrorists
    CT 2 – No one ever asked for the POW return and now 10 terrorists are traded, one of whom is Darth Vader
    CT 3 – Obama has a secret terrorist party at the white house with Darth Vader

    June 5, 2014 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  19. Silence DoGood

    @Tampa Tim
    Now that Bergdahl has been tried and convicted by Fox News and the Republican Party, there is no reason for the military to actually find out what happened.
    Conservative strategy: turn unknowns into pretend "facts" in the worst light for Obama, then let the conspiracy theorists have fun running with it.

    June 5, 2014 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  20. Tommy G

    Let's say we are back in World War II days.... Let's say we were lucky enough to have captured the head of Hitler's intelligence agency and four other top generals, including Rommel. Do you honestly think Roosevelt would have exchanged them for a deserter before the war had ended

    Obama is not only naive, incompetent and clueless, he has now shown he is outright DANGEROUS to every single person in the military as well as every single US citizen. He exists ONLY to serve his own political interests and the interests of this country and its people be damned.

    June 5, 2014 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  21. Anthony

    NYNJCT, we still have the drones. If they attack us, we attack them.

    June 5, 2014 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  22. Donna

    Obama's poll numbers should be dipping into the 30's after this fiasco. We knew the Democrat Party was the party of criminals, illegal country invaders, welfare cheats and thieves and now they can deserters to the list.

    June 5, 2014 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  23. Tampa Tim

    So true, but Obumbles has been out to destroy America since day one.
    Yet stupid people think the Great Recession, two unfunded unnecessary wars, record job loss, and an economic meltdown were the good old days. Got brains? I don't think so.

    June 5, 2014 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  24. Tampa Tim

    Donna – Do you think Obama may not get elected to a third term, even though he did the right thing? You are a hoot.

    June 5, 2014 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  25. Tony D

    Well, one thing is for sure.... This has gotten the VA scandal OFF the front pages! Now Obama is claiming he cares about our vets by getting this deserter released. Meanwhile, back at the VA, our vets STILL aren't being taken care of. Bu tthat doesn't matter as much as getting it off of the front pages.

    Wake up America. You are being royally conned and manipulated by Obama.

    June 5, 2014 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
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