It took less than 24 hours for an assault from the right wing to rise after President Barack Obama delivered news of the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in the Rose Garden on May 31, with many notable Republicans piling on criticisms of the White House and stamping the words “terrorist” and “deserter” on Bergdahl.
Republicans are condemning Obama for what they call a violation of the National Defense Authorization Act that requires the president to notify Congress 30 days before transferring prisoners from Gitmo. Others, flip-flopping their previously stated opinions that favored freedom for the only known prisoner of war in Afghanistan. (Former Republican President Ronald Reagan traded arms with Iran for hostages in the 1980s. And fellow Republican and former President George W. Bush negotiated with Iranians after calling them part of the "Axis of Evil.")
Forty-three percent of Americans are against the swap that released Bergdahl in exchange for five Gitmo prisoners, according to a new poll released by USA Today and the Pew Research Center among 1,004 adults. Thirty-four percent of the public said it was the "right thing" to do. A majority of Republicans (71%) disapprove of the move – and they’re not afraid to show it.
Here’s what the right has said on Bergdahl’s release since Obama’s announcement:
- Michigan Rep. Mike Rogers, the Republican House Intelligence Committee chairman, said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe": "He was not a prisoner of war; he was with the Haqqani network, which is a terrorist organization."
- Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and failed Republican vice presidential candidate wrote in a Facebook post: "No, Mr. President, a soldier expressing horrid anti-American beliefs – even boldly putting them in writing and unabashedly firing off his messages while in uniform, just three days before he left his unit on foot – is not 'honorable service.' Unless that is your standard."
- Rep. Duncan Hunter of California said on Fox News: "As John Kerry threw his medals over the White House fence and turned his back on all of his Vietnam brothers and sisters, that’s what Bergdahl did. Bergdahl walked away from his men and he left them in a bad spot. People lost their lives or got hurt trying to find him."
- Sen. Susan Collins of Maine commented: "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."
- Ret. Gen. James Conway said on Fox News: "He was a deserter. He broke his oath to his nation. He broke his loyalty to his fellow soldiers and walked off a post that was undermanned in very serious bad guy country."
- Conservative commentator Bill O'Reilly thought: "Sergeant Bergdahl is a deserter and five dangerous Taliban war criminals are free -- tough to justify."
- Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former prisoner of war during the Vietnam War flip-flopped his original opinion to return Bergdahl to the United States: "It is disturbing that these [five prisoners] would have the ability to re-enter the fight."
- Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said: "In effect, we released the 'Taliban Dream Team.'"
- Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire wrote: "The administration's decision to release these five terrorist detainees endangers U.S. national security interests."
- Fox News White House correspondent James Rosen said: "Probably in some respects as a kind of modern daily Lee Harvey Oswald -- a confused figure, a kind of inept figure by many accounts."
The United States agreed to release five high-level Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba to secure Bergdahl's freedom. The U.S. Army is investigating Bergdahl's decision in 2009 to leave his military post, which landed him in the hands of the Taliban and captivity for nearly five years.
Bergdahl continues his recovery at a military hospital in Germany for his reintegration process – he is not aware of the political and media firestorm over his freedom, nor does he know about the public anger expressed from his platoon mates who feel that he deserted them and his country during the longest war in American history.