Friday, June 13, 2014

Bergdahl returns to U.S.

Blaine County commissioner calls for return to normal

Express Staff Writer

Blaine County Commission Chair Larry Schoen speaks during a press conference Wednesday asking the press to back off from Hailey residents over the Bergdahl affair. Photo by Roland Lane

    The Pentagon stated that Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is expected to arrive in San Antonio, Texas, early today. He will not be available for photographs or interviews.
    No date has been set for his return to Blaine County.
    “I could not speculate on that,” said Lt. Col. Tom Crosson at the Pentagon. “That will be up to his doctors and reintegration staff.
    For the past two weeks, Hailey has been in the international news spotlight as journalists from major television networks and newspapers around the world were beating the pavement looking for local scuttlebutt on Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.     
    Zaney’s Café on River Street in Hailey provided a makeshift television studio for more than a week as ABC, CBS, CNN, Al Jazeera America and other news networks lined up to interview locals in order to patch together an impression of the town where Bergdahl grew up.
    Zaney’s owner, Sue Martin, said she closed down four days ago due to telephone threats and unwelcome visitors.
    Martin employed Bergdahl as a barista before he joined the Army. She joined many others giving interviews under the lights at Zaney’s, until “threatening calls” were made to her business telephone.
    According to Hailey Police Chief Jeff Gunter, an anonymous caller threatened Martin and said he would “be by later.”
    Gunter said he patrolled River Street and found that the threat did not materialize.
    Martin said the last straw for her came when two men who said they were Afghan reporters working for Voice of America insisted on interviewing her and taking her picture. She said no.
    “They wouldn’t leave,” she said. “They had no identification cards saying who they were.”
    Martin closed her café and left.
    “I went into hiding for a while,” she said.
    She said she then called County Commission Chair Larry Schoen to do something about it.
    Schoen addressed television crews and print journalists at a press conference at the old County Courthouse in Hailey on Wednesday, saying it was time for the press to back off and let locals get back to business as usual.
    “We appreciate the interest that has been shown in our community, but acknowledge that now we will be getting back to our lives, our businesses and normal activities,” he said. “Very sadly, it has come down to the Bergdahl family receiving personal threats and several other members of our community receiving personal threats. It’s simply unfair to terrorize good-hearted Americans, who have supported a family who only has proven to their son what many of us parents often say to our children—our love, a parent’s love—is unconditional.”
    Schoen offered to take calls from the media regarding Bergdahl’s community.
    Idaho National Guard Col. Tim Marsano said at the press conference that he continues to provide direct liaison support for the Bergdahl family.
    “I spoke with them this morning,” Marsano said.
    Many people in Bergdhal's hometown have been given air time around the world, describing him and his family and expressing the roller coaster of emotions that followed his release during a prisoner exchange on May 31.
    Bergdahl gained his freedom in a swap that also freed five high-level Taliban leaders from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a deal that caused a backlash of negative sentiment against a POW who until recently appeared to have unqualified support from around the country.
    Based on allegations by fellow soldiers that Bergdahl is a deserter, and a controversy in Washington, D.C., surrounding the legality of the Obama administration’s decision to free him through a prisoner exchange, the tide of sympathy has apparently shifted.
    The city of Hailey’s website and a Facebook page representing Hailey’s Memorial Day celebration, have been deluged by scathing comments calling Bergdahl a traitor, and in some cases threatening lethal attacks on the Bergdahl family.
    Those threats are under investigation by the FBI.
    While Schoen was speaking to news crews in Hailey on Wednesday, Martin was back at Zaney’s for the first time this week, cleaning her porch in preparation for business and chatting with a CNN news crew led by Ed Lavandera.
    Martin said she has not sworn off giving interviews, but never to Fox News, which aired a segment on the O’Reilly Factor featuring interviews with Hailey residents, in which the question was raised as to whether Bowe Bergdahl and his father, Bob, had become Taliban sympathizers.
    “All the networks are welcome here except Fox News,” Martin said. “They have burned this bridge and that is unfortunate, because the news has not even happened yet. Bowe has not told his story.”
    U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel defended the prisoner exchange Wednesday at a congressional hearing.
    “I would never sign any document or agree to any decision that I did not feel was in the best interests of this country, nor did the president of the United States, who made the decision with the full support of his national security team,” Hagel said.
    Hagel said the Army will review the circumstances of Bergdahl’s capture and eventual release in due time.
    Marsano said Thursday that no date has been set for Bergdahl’s return to the U.S.

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