Jani and Bob Bergdahl, the parents of newly freed captive U.S. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, spoke at a news conference at Gowen Field in Boise today, addressing comments directly to their son, who is recovering at a military hospital in Germany, the AP reports. "You are from a strong tribe, you are even stronger now," Jani Bergdahl said. "Five years is a seemingly endless long time, but you've made it. ... You are free. Freedom is yours. I will see you soon, my beloved son." The Idaho Statesman has posted the full video of the press conference here on YouTube. “Bowe, you were not left behind,” Bob Bergdahl said. “I told you you wouldn’t be left behind.” Addressing the crowd and the cameras, he said, “You as the American people should know that should this ever happen to you, you will see parts of your government that you never knew were there, and you’ll be so thankful.”
U.S. officials said Sunday that Bergdahl's health and safety appeared in jeopardy, prompting rapid action to secure his release in exchange for five Taliban prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay. Republicans in Congress said the deal could place U.S. troops in danger, especially if the freed detainees return to the fight — one called it "shocking." Arizona Sen. John McCain said of the five detainees, "These are the hardest of the hard core."
Republicans also said the deal violated requirements that Congress be given 30 days' notice before any exchange of captives at the Guantanamo Bay detention center. But national security adviser Susan Rice said "an urgent and an acute situation," which she did not specify, did not allow that time. "We did not have 30 days to wait," she said. "And had we waited and lost him, I don't think anybody would have forgiven the United States government."
Meanwhile, residents of Hailey prepared to welcome home Bergdahl, 28; he was the only American prisoner of war still held by insurgents in the Afghanistan war, and had been held captive for five years. Click below for a full report from the Associated Press, including reporting from Boise, Hailey, Washington, D.C., and Afghanistan.
Freed soldier's parents say they're proud of son
By REBECCA BOONE, Associated Press
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The father of an American soldier just released from captivity in Afghanistan said Sunday that he is proud of how far his son, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, was willing to go to help the Afghan people.
Bob Bergdahl said he admired his son's patience, perseverance and ability to adapt during nearly five years as a prisoner of the Taliban. Bowe Bergdahl was freed Saturday in exchange for five Guantanamo terrorism detainees.
"But most of all, I'm proud of how much you wanted to help the Afghan people, and what you were willing to do to go to that length," Bob Bergdahl said, fighting back tears during a press conference in Boise.
"And I think you have succeeded," he added.
Parents Bob and Jani Bergdahl didn't elaborate on what his comments meant.
The circumstances surrounding Bergdahl's capture remain something of a mystery. There has been some speculation that he willingly walked away from his unit, raising the question of whether he could face charges.
In 2012, Rolling Stone magazine quoted emails Bergdahl is said to have sent to his parents that suggest he was disillusioned with America's mission in Afghanistan, had lost faith in the U.S. Army's mission there and was considering desertion. Bergdahl told his parents he was "ashamed to even be American." The Associated Press could not independently authenticate the emails.
Bergdahl's parents declined to take any questions at the press conference, but they spoke about what they anticipate will be a long healing process as their son reintegrates into American society.
"We're talking like this because we haven't talked to Bowe yet," Bob Bergdahl told the crowd of about three dozen journalists and nearly as many supporters of prisoners of war and those missing in action at the Idaho National Guard's Gowen Field. "That's because Bowe has been gone so long that it's going to be very difficult to come back."
Bowe Bergdahl will begin the reintegration process at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where he will be given time to tell his story, decompress and reconnect with his family through telephone calls and video conferences, a U.S. defense official said Saturday. Eventually, he is expected to be taken to a military base in Texas to reunite with his family.
Bob Bergdahl urged Bowe to trust his military reintegration team, and Jani Bergdahl told her son to take all the time he needs to heal and decompress. They said they were grateful for the work that the U.S. government and other countries — including Qatar, which served as a go-between in the negotiations — did to bring their son home.
"You are from a strong tribe, you are even stronger now," Jani Bergdahl said. "Five years is a seemingly endless long time, but you've made it. ... You are free. Freedom is yours. I will see you soon, my beloved son."
The parents were expected to head home to their small central Idaho town of Hailey on Sunday afternoon. They will be greeted by a community in celebration — yellow ribbons and support rallies have become a defining symbol of the region since Bergdahl was captured.
Bouquets of yellow balloons on the doors of Wood River Valley's Presbyterian church met congregants Sunday morning, and ushers handed out yellow ribbons.
"Praise God for Bowe's release," church greeters said in welcome.
The Bergdahls would give near weekly updates at the church on the efforts to bring their son home.
The service was performed by former pastor Al Oliver, who led the church for nearly 15 years and knows the Bergdahl family.
"I am so happy to return here today after a joyous event," Oliver said. "It's a great time for celebration."
An annual event called "Bring Bowe Back" scheduled for June 28 in Hailey has been renamed "Bowe is Back." Organizer Stefanie O'Neill said Saturday that it would be an early welcome-home party for the long-awaited soldier — even though he isn't all the way home quite yet.
Associated Press writer Kimberlee Kruesi contributed to this story from Hailey, Idaho.
US defends captive swap with Taliban, critics stir
By LOLITA C. BALDOR and CALVIN WOODWARD, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Five years a captive from the Afghanistan war, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is back in American hands, freed for five Guantanamo terrorism detainees in a swap stirring sharp debate in Washington over whether the U.S. should have negotiated with the Taliban over prisoners.
U.S. officials said Sunday that Bergdahl's health and safety appeared in jeopardy, prompting rapid action to secure his release. Republicans said the deal could place U.S. troops in danger, especially if the freed detainees return to the fight — one called it "shocking." Arizona Sen. John McCain said of the five detainees, "These are the hardest of the hard core."
Visiting troops in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel stepped forward at Bagram Air Field to thank the special operations forces who retrieved Bergdahl, who officials said was the only American prisoner of war still held by insurgents in that conflict. Gen. Joseph Dunford spoke of the excitement that spread through U.S. ranks when the sergeant's release was confirmed. "You almost got choked up," he said. "It was pretty extraordinary."
Tireless campaigners for their son's freedom, Bob and Jani Bergdahl thanked all who were behind the effort to retrieve him. "You were not left behind," Bob Bergdahl told reporters, as if speaking to his son. "We are so proud of the way this was carried out." He spoke in Boise, Idaho, as residents in the sergeant's hometown of Hailey prepared for a homecoming celebration.
Hagel was met with silence when he told troops in a Bagram hangar: "This is a happy day. We got one of our own back." It was unclear whether the absence of cheers and applause came from a reluctance to display emotion in front of the Pentagon chief or from any doubts among the troops about Bergdahl.
In weighing the swap, U.S. officials decided it could help the effort to reach reconciliation with the Taliban, which the U.S. sees as key to more security in Afghanistan. But they acknowledged the risk that the deal would embolden insurgents, perhaps encouraging them to grab U.S. troops or citizens as bargaining chips for the release of others in U.S. custody.
Republicans pressed that point. "Have we just put a price on other U.S. soldiers?" asked Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. "What does this tell terrorists, that if you capture a U.S. soldier, you can trade that soldier for five terrorists?"
"I'm going to celebrate him coming home," said Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. But the release of "five mid- to high-level Taliban is shocking to me, especially without coming to Congress."
Republicans also said the deal violated requirements that Congress be given 30 days' notice before any exchange of captives at Guantanamo.
National security adviser Susan Rice said "an urgent and an acute situation," which she did not specify, did not allow that time.
"We did not have 30 days to wait," she said. "And had we waited and lost him, I don't think anybody would have forgiven the United States government."
Bergdahl, 28, is being treated at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. Rice said he had lost considerable weight and faced an "acute" situation. Yet she said he appeared to be "in good physical condition" and "is said to be walking."
The circumstances surrounding Bergdahl's capture remain murky.
In 2012, Rolling Stone magazine quoted emails Bergdahl is said to have sent to his parents that suggest he was disillusioned with America's mission in Afghanistan, had lost faith in the U.S. Army and was considering desertion. Bergdahl told his parents he was "ashamed to even be American." The Associated Press could not independently authenticate the emails.
Hagel brushed aside such questions for now.
"Our first priority is assuring his well-being and his health and getting him reunited with his family," Hagel said. A senior U.S. official told The Associated Press that the Army would make the decision on any charges but the feeling at the moment was that Bergdahl had suffered enough. All the officials who discussed details of Bergdahl's transfer insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to be identified.
The U.S. has long sought Bergdahl's release, but there was renewed interest in his case as Obama completed plans to pull nearly all U.S. forces out of Afghanistan by the end of 2016.
Officials said the Taliban signaled to the U.S. in November that they were ready to start fresh talks on the issue of detainees. After the U.S. received proof that Bergdahl was alive, indirect talks began, with Qatar sending messages back and forth.
Rice spoke on CNN and ABC, Cruz on ABC, McCain on CBS and Kinzinger on NBC.
Baldor reported from Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan. Associated Press writers Deb Riechmann and Darlene Superville in Washington, Rahim Faiez in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Zarar Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.
The 5 detainees swapped for US soldier
WASHINGTON (AP) — Snapshots of the five people released from the Guantanamo Bay detention center in a swap for Taliban-held U.S. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl:
—Abdul Haq Wasiq, who served as the Taliban deputy minister of intelligence
—Mullah Norullah Nori, a senior Taliban commander in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif when the Taliban fought U.S. forces in late 2001
—Khairullah Khairkhwa, who served in various Taliban positions, including interior minister, and had direct ties to Taliban leader Mullah Omar and al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden
—Mohammed Nabi, who served as chief of security for the Taliban in Qalat, Afghanistan, and later worked as a radio operator for the Taliban's communications office in Kabul
—Mohammad Fazl, who Human Rights Watch says could be prosecuted for war crimes for allegedly presiding over the mass killing of Shiite Muslims in Afghanistan in 2000 and 2001 as the Taliban sought to consolidate control of the country
Under the conditions of release, the five are to stay within the borders of Qatar for at least a year.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press