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. YoonYoungJo

    Innocent until proven guilty. Because if he was captured due to desertion then the US did get the raw end of the deal. Doesn't mean the US Soldiers life isn't precious, it still is but maybe a one for one prisoner exchange would have been better. Still, the WH might have good reasons or other tactically important reasons for making the exchange. Reasons that are not readily apparent.

    June 5, 2014 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  2. Tom l

    I know I came off like a dbag with that "advice" comment and I do apologize for mis characterizing your age.

    June 5, 2014 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  3. Thomas

    Its all about ending our military presence in Afghanistan , we have been there 13 years to long .

    President Hamid Karzai and his brother are crooks who thrive on corruption. We went to war in Afghanistan in retaliation over 911 and a Saudi extremest named Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden . We lost are objective as soon as the economic circus came to town. You can't refer to a people fighting for there land and county terrorists .

    Close GTMO !

    June 5, 2014 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  4. Sniffit

    "It backfired because King Obama paid too high a price to free a traitor to his county."

    Sorry, but that damage was already done when we illegally started detaining people at Gitmo, refusing them representation, refusing them a trial, etc., and generally, all-around abandoning every single principle of justice upon which the country was founded, thereby giving Al Qaeda and OBL exactly what they wanted. Not to mention the fact that the AQ recruitment brochures all come with a nice glossy picture of Gitmo juxtaposed with the carpet bombing of Baghdad on the cover. These 5 are a drop in the bucket to number Gitmo created just by existing.

    June 5, 2014 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  5. Obama: Plan B

    Egads... hurry! Round up Susan Rice to go out again next Sunday and find a new video to blame this on!! This craziness cannot be traced back to the White House. Find an appropriate low level flunky in Cinci to blame it on.

    June 5, 2014 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  6. Sniffit

    Getting the message yet, all you currently active-duty soldiers and servicemembers? Don't get captured while a Dem is CiC or the GOP/Teatrolls will make sure you and your family are completely and utterly destroyed.

    June 5, 2014 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  7. Rudy Haugeneder -- CANADA

    For those opposed to the deal, one must ask: All of a sudden PTSD no longer matters. Does this mean any American soldier or cop suffering PTSD is a coward who must be despised? Seems so.

    June 5, 2014 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  8. smith

    @Silence and Sniffit- There is no trial. He is not a civilian being that nine of his units members and his NCOIC have said he went AWOL his command can hit him being AWOL. Conviction papers? there wouldn`t be any. Trial? No trial. The military system is not even close to the civilian system. The AWOL violation can be handled by his command. This isn`t a "Few Good Men". Military tribunals deal with major offenses like Manning`s case.

    June 5, 2014 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  9. Sniffit

    "Find an appropriate low level flunky in Cinci to blame it on."

    Yeah, preferably another Republican appointed by Bush so we can watch the GOP/Teatrolls in Congress throw another one of their own under the bus.

    June 5, 2014 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  10. Sniffit

    "Still, the WH might have good reasons or other tactically important reasons for making the exchange. Reasons that are not readily apparent."

    Well, the GOP/Teatrolls are doing everything they can to distract from and bury those reasons and the MSM is more than happy to help them if it means more controversy to sensationalize.

    June 5, 2014 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  11. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    @Obama: Plan B
    Egads... hurry! Round up Susan Rice to go out again next Sunday and find a new video to blame this on!! This craziness cannot be traced back to the White House. Find an appropriate low level flunky in Cinci to blame it on.

    Sort of like Reagan and Bush letting Ollie North swing in the wind for months while they lied through there rotten teeth?

    June 5, 2014 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  12. Rudy NYC

    The negative comments by Republicans is not surprising, but the heightened level of hypocrisy is. The worst example of hypocrisy and flip-flopping comes from Sen. McCain. Just this past February he appeared on CNN with Anderson Cooper saying that he would approve of a prisoner swap. McCain even said that he would approve of a swap involving some the top Taliban leaders. McCain even mentioned the number five! But, it's okay if you are a Republican.

    June 5, 2014 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  13. dru

    Glad to get him home, just wish we didn't break our own rule about negotiating with terrorists. I'm sure more Americans around the world will pay the price for this.

    June 5, 2014 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  14. just asking

    Getting the message yet, all you currently active-duty soldiers and servicemembers?

    yes, they got the message loud and clear from obama. they are now in greater danger of being captured and held for ransom. the price has been set. can you imagine how much an officer is worth, let alone a lowly deserter?

    June 5, 2014 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  15. Rudy NYC

    Critics of the deal keep referring to the released prisoners as "terrorists." I am not aware of the Taliban ever having been officially labeled as a terrorist group. First of all, what act of terror have they committed. The Taliban is a government, which is not to be conflated with Al-Qaeda.

    The Taliban may have provided safe harbor for terrorists groups, but does that make them terrorists? If it does, then doesn't that make the government of Pakistan terrorists, too? I am not aware of the Taliban providing financial support to Al-Qaeda, which I understand was originally self-funded by Bin Laden.

    People argue that the prisoners killed Americans. People should remember that they didn't kill any Americans until Americans invaded their country and tried to kill or capture them. Finally, the individuals were known as "enemy combatants" until this deal went through.

    June 5, 2014 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  16. Lynda/Minnesota

    Its all about ending our military presence in Afghanistan , we have been there 13 years to long .

    Indeed. Unfortunately there are those who would rather we "stay" for 13 more long years. They've got their scapegoat now. I could say we sit back and let them enjoy taking this one man down publicly for the absolute debacle that has been OUR war on the axis of evil, but it's too high a price to pay for the young man and his family under any circumstance.

    If Generals (and such) had misgivings with both wars, how on earth folks feel comfortable criticizing another who apparently had the same misgivings is beyond comprehension.

    The thirst for public hangings is still strong in America.

    June 5, 2014 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  17. Silence DoGood

    @Tom l
    I know I came off like a dbag with that "advice" comment and I do apologize for mis characterizing your age.
    Spoken like gentleman. I am sure I am not entirely innocent of such a lapse as well at some point.

    June 5, 2014 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  18. Sniffit

    The only reason we didn't hear the GOP/Teatrolls screaming "bring him home to justice for his desertion!!!!!" and making a big to-do about making sure the guy was brought home to answer for his alleged crimes is because they considered it far more effective pandering to go with the "stand with Bowe!!! no man left behind!!!!" rhetoric. One might wonder whether the pervasive flip-flopping that has been proven so many of the GOP/Teatrolls have now done on the issue is because they planned it that way all along:

    They knew about the desertion allegation when they demanded he be rescued, criticized Obama for not having done it yet, expressed sympathy for and solidarity with him and his family, etc. Then, right when he gets rescued, Republican strategists (who used to work for Romney's campaign) suddenly run out and start collecting interviews from his accusers and helping them get their accusations publicized. Seems a bit convenient, eh?

    June 5, 2014 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  19. N86RM

    This just goes to show you how clueless Obama and his people are when trading 5 major terrorist leaders for a deserter shocks them that we think they are idiots.

    To state this deserter as having "served with honor and distinction" almost makes my skin crawl wondering what else do these people REALLY think?

    There is a reason people think Obama is incompetent. It is because he is.

    June 5, 2014 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  20. REGinAZ

    Whatever anyone thinks of the "swap", right or wrong, it should be clear that Obama was put in a no-win situation – wrong whatever he does. With that being the strategy used against him regarding most everything all along, used aggressively just for propaganda with whatever choices he makes being criticized. No one else contributes, no one else offers any solution and they just wait without any concern for the costs just to find fault with whatever decision is made. Now likely Obama could have benefitted from more experience and for sure he has made mistakes, with his credit just being that he responsibly and conscientiously tries, but the real point is that others shouldn't gain from their being irresponsible and just self-serving as they actually sought, and even intentionally worked to have, problems and failures that had significant costs. These actions should really identify those who can't and won't honestly and responsibly govern for the people, who are beyond having a conscience and are just totally self-serving.

    June 5, 2014 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  21. rs


    @rs-What your not talking about is at least nine soliders and his NCOIC have said the Bergdahl went AWOL. They were there and not one solider or anyone else has said anything that is different. 10 witnesses and a confession to his NCOIC is alot to just shrub aside.
    Show me his conviction. Until then, he remains a U.S. soldier, recently released from the enemy that held him. I simply fail to grasp the Rights' rush to slander in this case to avoid acknowledging this soldier's return. Meanwhile, I'll remind you of all the glory stories we supposedly heard during the Iraq War, or the stories about Tillman- which al turned out to be false once examined.

    June 5, 2014 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  22. Tim

    Obama's White House continues to be surprised because they are so very out-of-touch with reality and America. Obama is clueless and incompetent.

    June 5, 2014 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  23. rosethornne

    Why would anyone be surprised at the moral depths found by baggers?

    June 5, 2014 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  24. capiers

    Who is to say he wasn't planning on slipping away for a few hours and returning before anyone noticed. Of course his capture prevented him from returning to his post. So it is possible he was not a deserter but simply a POW.

    June 5, 2014 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  25. rs

    Tommy G

    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.
    As you like to play with history- a question:
    What happens to POWs at the end of a war? On what date THIS year does the Afghan war end?

    The Defense Dept. did NOT list Bergdahl as a POW due to the circumstances around his disappearance. Please don't make things up.

    Also, I didn't see that the war in Afghanistan had ended, because it hasn't. It is still an ongoing war. What sane person releases five top leaders of an organization that we are still actively fighting?

    Speak to my points and enough with the made up BS. Anybody defending Obama on this latest insanity has their head stuck so far up their backside there is no hope of ever getting it out.
    You clearly have no clue about the particulars of this deal. BTW- according to the Pentagon and Gen. McChrystal, Bergdahl was a POW. Now, go find a map. Find Qatar. And for good measure- look up when the Afghan war ends. The 5 guys will be there a year. Figure it out yet?

    June 5, 2014 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
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