Q&A: Bowe Bergdahl's release, the national reactions Sunday

June 1, 2014 

Who is Bergdahl?

Bowe Bergdahl was a 23-year-old soldier serving with an Alaska-based infantry regiment in Afghanistan when he disappeared on June 30, 2009. He was captured by the Taliban, becoming the only U.S. prisoner of war in Afghanistan.

For most of his five years as a prisoner, Bergdahl was believed held by the Haqqani network, a Taliban affiliate. A private at the time of his capture, he was promoted to sergeant two years later.

On Saturday, May 31, the now 28-year-old Bergdahl was freed in exchange for five people held by the U.S. at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The five include senior government officials from the time when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan.

What did we learn Sunday?

Bowe's parents, Bob and Jani Bergdahl, spoke to the media Sunday, largely using the time to thank those who helped rescue their son and to ask both their neighbors and the broader public for privacy while Bowe recovers and the family reconnects with him.

The couple said they have not yet gotten to speak with their son, but addressed him during the press conference. Bob Bergdahl spoke of how proud he is of Bowe: "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 lenghth. … And I think you have succeeded."

The Bergdahls did not take media questions, saying there would be a time for that later.

The national response, day 2

Amid the celebration of Bowe's return, national attention Sunday turned to the Obama administration's decision to trade five Taliban captives for Bergdahl, and the question of how he was captured in the first place. Some have suggested Bergdahl walked away unarmed from his base, and Rolling Stone magazine in 2012 quoted emails suggesting Bergdahl was disgusted with the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel defended the deal Sunday morning on NBC's "Meet the Press," while White House national security adviser Susan Rice did the same thing on ABC's "This Week". On both shows, Republican critics including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz questioned the deal and the lack of notice to Congress. Asked Cruz, "Have we just put a price on other U.S. soldiers?"

The BBC quoted Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar welcoming the trade as a "big victory" in a rare public statement.

Major news sites devoted Sunday to analysis of the trade. The Christian Science Monitor revisited Rolling Stone's 2012 reporting, asking "Did Bowe Bergdahl go AWOL in Afghanistan?" The Wall Street Journal reports a disconnect in Afghanistan between the military's senior leadership and its rank-and-file as to the deal (Note: that story may be behind a paywall). (Edit: Here's a similar story from the Washington Post.) And, many sites dissected the Sunday morning talk shows: here, from Politico, is Susan Rice on why Obama didn't notify Congress ahead of time.

What's next for Bergdahl?

He was taken first to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan for medical care, and Sunday morning arrived at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. There, he will be given "time to tell his story" and to reconnect with his family over the phone and online before he returns to the U.S. He is tentatively scheduled to go to the San Antonio Military Medical Center, where he will be reunited with his family.

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