Robert Ehlert: Court of public opinion has mixed verdict on Bowe Bergdahl

rehlert@idahostatesman.comJune 3, 2014 

Within the span of 72 hours, words describing Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl have been all over the spectrum. The Hailey soldier released over the weekend in a "prisoner swap" after five years of captivity has been variously referred to as a deserter, hero, victim and criminal.

Speculation and anecdotes splash on the empty canvas of his mysterious disappearance in 2009. Time may tell. But more likely we'll be mining an enigmatic episode for some time.

Our military listed Bergdahl as a prisoner of war; as is procedure, he was promoted to sergeant during his captivity; there is no evidence he is now being held against his will by the U.S. Army.

On Monday the Statesman asked this on its Facebook page: "Do questions over the circumstances of Bowe Bergdahl's capture by the Taliban in 2009 affect your reaction to his release? Why or why not?"

Below find sample responses:

Shannon Hoyle Nielsen: Our government has placed a target on the backs of every American ... military and civilian, by letting the world know we will negotiate with terrorists. And why now? I guess Obama was getting desperate to take the heat off all the scandals.

Frances Proebstel: Leland Heinbach said how most of us feel. How can a person really pass judgment when they don't have all the facts? All that has been heard is coming from the media, so it's just gossip

Jennifer Fultz: No way does it affect my happiness that after all he has been through the last few years that he is safe and can start the long journey of healing.

Paul Orlando: Happy for his family, sad for our country and how many others may be kidnapped now that we negotiate with bad people?

Brian Johns: Happy he's safe, sure. But is he a deserter? Was he really anti-American? Was it wise to trade for five Muslim extremist terrorists who will just go back to killing Americans? Did Obama really break the law to get this trade done? Hmmmm.

Shawn O'Neal: So many experts on this thread. We live in fortunate times to have access to such a vast reservoir of knowledge.

Sean McDonough: Idaho Statesman - THANK YOU for posting this and starting the real process of understanding. There are far too many that think his "captivity" was his punishment. There are far too many that are thinking with bleeding hearts for the family. He broke one of the biggest laws of a soldier and should face the laws as a soldier. No matter how hard the pill is to swallow for Americans and the current administration, if Bowe is not brought to justice (and soon), it is nothing less than an insult to every person who has ever served their country.

Laurie Samuel: Of course, the whole story stinks and the parents opening their mouths made me feel even worse.

Brad Walker: I'm happy for the family, but yes there are questions to be answered. ... I hope this does not lead to more Americans being kidnapped. Negotiations with terrorists is never good, even when through another country.

Sandy Tracy: No. I don't see him as a deserter or a hero. I see him as an American who was held captive by enemy forces for five years and is finally free. I am happy that he is safe and coming home.

Shauna Feller: I'm glad he was safely released but can't really support a hero's welcome home for him.

Carolyn Haney: Yes, I am very thankful he was released! But scared for the precedent it has now set that we will trade. I think it not only makes our military less safe, but all U.S. citizens traveling abroad.

Derek Suominen: Will the families of those who were killed while searching for him be invited to the big hometown welcome home parade? Maybe give them a pretty ribbon and bumper sticker to make up for their loss?

Stacie Morrison: No, not until all sides of the story are known.

Rick Bakeman: He should be tried and if convicted stood before a firing squad.

Amber Ashby: Glad he was released ... honestly worried that we had to trade five of our top current enemies to get him back. We now have a huge target on our backs - these people don't play fair, they aren't just going to keep the peace. I would like to know what really happened when he left base ...

Alicia Allen: I'm sad to see so many people hating on him. I do definitely have questions about what exactly happened ... but until he is home safe, that is something that can't be cleared up.

Wes Morris: So rules the court of public opinion. Thank goodness that court isn't the one he'll have to answer to in any legal sense, because he might as well go right from prisoner of war status to USDB inmate if public opinion were the judge.

Robert Ehlert is the Statesman's editorial page editor. Contact him at 377-6437, or on Twitter @IDS_HelloIdaho.

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