Jae C. Hong, Associated Press
Jani Bergdahl, left, joined by husband, Bob, the parents of captive U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, speaks at the "Bring Bowe Back" celebration held to honor Sgt. Bergdahl in Hailey, Idaho, Saturday, June 22, 2013.
The public uproar over the exchange of American soldier Bowe Bergdahl for five U.S.-held Taliban agents has extended beyond Bowe and the Obama administration to Bergdahl’s family.
Bergdahl’s father in particular has caught the public eye. Bill O’Reilly said that the bearded Bergdahl “looked like a Muslim,” The Washington Post reported, and Bergdahl’s neighbors and associates grew concerned as he began studying Pashto, one of the official languages of Afghanistan, growing a beard, and intensely studying the culture and religion of the Taliban and the Afghans that his son had spent time with, The Washington Post reported.
The Bergdahls' former pastor, Bob Henley “would ask Bergdahl if he hadn’t crossed some line, if he hadn’t succumbed to some form of the captive-bonding Stockholm syndrome,” The Washington Post wrote.
Bergdahl also has a controversial Twitter account that Business Insider has examined. Bergdahl’s Twitter activity has included tweeting Taliban press releases, tweeting Quran verses at Taliban members and advocating for the release of Guantanamo prisoners such as Moazzam Begg, who was accused of aiding jihadists in Syria, the Business Insider reported.
Business Insider describes Bergdahl’s Twitter as an account “in which he seemed to delve into and at times even mirror the mindset of the people who held his son captive for half a decade,” stating that it was an accurate reflection of exactly how complicated the event was for Bergdahl senior.
Bergdahl’s behavior might seem strange but it has nothing to do with the ongoing political event, according to some pundits.
In a live debate on the issue between Chuck Todd of NBC News and Joe Scarborough of MSNBC, Scarborough described Bergdahl as “a man who is reaching out to pro-Taliban forces,” and a bad father, reported Hot Air.
“Don’t criticize the parents,” Todd said in response to Scarborough, Hot Air reported. “Don’t criticize the parents in here, that are missing a child. Their son is missing for five years. You know what? It is not logical. You cannot handle it. You put yourself in his shoes.”
Some members of Bergdahl’s Hailey, Idaho, community agree with Todd. “We were not living through what Jani and Bob (Bowe Bergdahl’s parents) did,” Stefanie O’Neill told The Washington Post. “They did what they had to do to keep him safe.”
Bergdahl himself reassured anyone who expressed concern that his only intention was to understand his son’s captors, The Washington Post wrote. He was willing to delve so deeply into this foreign culture because he was willing to do and learn anything he could that might help bring his son home.
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National League of POW/MIA Families board member Mark Stephensen came to know Bergdahl personally, The Washington Post continued, and witnessed Bergdahl’s exploration of Afghan culture without much worry. Stephensen’s father was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for 21 years, The Washington Post wrote, and so Stephensen understood Robert Bergdahl’s desperation.
“I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt,” Stephensen told The Washington Post of Bergdahl’s behavior, “because, by the grace of God, I wasn’t in his position.”
Bethan Owen is a writer for the Deseret News Moneywise and Opinion sections. Twitter: BethanO2