US soldier Bowe Bergdahl’s father attacked by release deal critics over ‘suspicious’ beard and ‘attempt to claim White House for Islam’

Right-wing commentators turn on Robert Bergdahl’s appearance and use of ‘a Muslim prayer’ in Rose Garden address

Critics of the controversial deal to secure the release of the US Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five Taliban prisoners have now accused the soldier’s father of trying to “claim the White House for Islam”.

Right-wing political commentators have drawn attention to Robert Bergdahl’s long beard “in accordance with traditional Islamic customs” and his “suspicious” use of snippets of Pashto and Arabic when speaking to the media alongside President Barack Obama.

Mr Bergdahl has previously spoken openly about his efforts to engross himself in Afghan culture out of “solidarity” with his son, and has actively campaigned for the closure of the Cuba-based US detention facility Guantanamo Bay. 

But the Republican party politician Allen West asked if there was “something far more nefarious” going on, and reproduced a tweet in which Mr Bergdahl wrote “I am still working to free all Guantanamo prisoners. God will repay for the death of every Afghan child, ameen!”

Speaking in the Rose Garden alongside Mr Obama after his son’s release was secured, Mr Bergdahl said: “I’d like to say to Bowe right now, who is having trouble speaking English, bismallah al-rahman al-rahim.”

Mr West seized upon the use of the greeting, and quoted a “former intelligence expert with a focus on the Middle East” as saying: “By uttering these words in the grounds… Bergdahl sanctified the White House and claimed it for Islam”.

Private First Class(Pfc) Bowe Bergdahl, before his capture by the Taliban in Afghanistan. Bergdahl went missing from his post in Afghanistan on June 30, 2009 He claimed that a link between Mr Bergdahl and extremism was “not conspiracy theory, it is truth based upon Arabic and Islamic dogma and tradition”.

And linking Mr Bergdahl’s “connections” to the allegations of desertion against his son, one right-wing website asked: “Did the Obama White House trade five terrorists for a Taliban sympathiser?”

In 2010 a report from the Pentagon concluded that Bergdahl walked away from his unit unarmed before he was captured by the Taliban. But it has never described him as a “deserter”, as he has reportedly been branded by some of his former comrades.

In a video produced by the Guardian’s Sean Smith, Mr Bergdahl described how he was “trying to learn a little Pashto so I can speak to people, I’m trying to write and read the language”.

“I probably spend four hours a day reading on the region, on the history,” he said. “I’m working to get Bowe home… I do research and it all comes together somehow, domestic policy, foreign policy, Afghanistan. This has been an education.”

US President Barack Obama (C), with the parents of US Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, Jani Bergdahl (L) and Bob Bergdahl Speaking to the Washington Post, Mr Bergdahl’s former pastor Bob Henley said that the father had been “very cognisant of the possibility” that he might be accused of succumbing to some form of captive-bonding Stockholm syndrome.

But he said Mr Bergdahl had assured friends he just wanted to understand his son’s captors and do everything he could to secure his release, adding: “I guess you really had to be in his shoes.”

Meanwhile, the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defended the administration's decision to make the prisoner swap, saying many of the US’s allies made similar deals.

“This young man, whatever the circumstances, was an American citizen - is an American citizen – and was serving in our military,” Ms Clinton said. “The idea that you really care for your own citizens and particularly those in uniform, I think is a very noble one.”

Sgt Bergdahl was handed over to US special forces by the Taliban, in an area of eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistan border, on Saturday and is recovering at a medical centre in south-western Germany. He is yet to be reunited with his parents.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea