Freed soldier Bowe Bergdahl’s welcome cancelled

Decorations outside a shop in Sgt Bergdahl's hometown of Hailey in Idaho. Security fears have put an end to party plans. Picture: AP
Decorations outside a shop in Sgt Bergdahl's hometown of Hailey in Idaho. Security fears have put an end to party plans. Picture: AP
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The US hometown of released captive Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl has cancelled plans for a celebration later this month, citing security concerns after negative emails and angry phone calls.

Organisers in the town of Hailey in Idaho released a statement saying that because of intense media interest in Sgt Bergdahl’s story, they expect a significant increase in the number of people planning to attend the event – some to protest, and others to support the Bergdahl family.

The organisers said that the town of 8,000 people, does not have the infrastructure to support a big event.

Sgt Bergdahl, 28, had been held prisoner by the Taleban since 30 June, 2009.

He was handed over to US special forces by the Taleban in exchange for the release of five Afghan detainees held by the United States.

Questions remain about the events that led to his capture, with some critics calling Sgt Bergdahl a deserter.

Hailey police chief Jeff Gunter said the event has been misrepresented, leading people to think it’s some sort of hero’s welcome.

He added: “If you had 10,000 people, 5,000 on one side and 5,000 on the other, then just due to the national attention we don’t know what to expect.”

The town has had an event called “Bring Bowe Back” for several years. That commemoration of his capture was scheduled for 28 June, but when news of Sgt Bergdahl’s release broke, organisers quickly announced it would be a welcome home party instead.

Hailey Chamber of Commerce president Jane Drussel said she had received dozens of hateful emails and phone calls over the past few days, starting after she was quoted in news stories saying the town was jubilant that Sgt Bergdahl had been released.

The Chamber of Commerce has also received dozens of emails and calls from detractors, many lambasting the town, Ms Drussel and the chamber for supporting Sgt Bergdahl, calling him un-American and a traitor.

Ms Drussel said she has not received any direct threats, but with all the vitriol, she worried the town would not have enough security. She said: “It’s upsetting because this is where people live in peace and harmony. The joy has all of a sudden become not so joyful.”

Ms Drussel added that the event had never been planned to be a “hero’s welcome,” but more of a welcome home ceremony as Sgt Bergdahl is reunited with this family.

She was saddened by all the hateful messages, saying: “He and his family will never know a normal life.”

The cancellation came as president Barack Obama reiterated his decision to sign off the prisoner exchange. He said he “absolutely makes no apologies” for seeking the release of Sgt Bergdahl.

When it comes to getting soldiers back from war, Mr Obama said: “We don’t condition whether or not we make the ­effort to try to get them back.”

He said Sgt Bergdahl’s health had been deteriorating and “We were deeply concerned about it”.

Mr Obama said his administration had discussed an exchange with members of Congress in the past.

He did not notify politicians that he planned to release ­detainees from Guantanamo.