- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The initial euphoria in Idaho over Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s release is turning to alarm over reports that the long-held prisoner of war may have been a deserter.

Yellow ribbons, balloons and signs reading, “Bowe is Free At Last” still decorate Main Street in Sgt. Bergdahl’s hometown of Hailey, Idaho, but criticism of the newly released Taliban prisoners is starting to temper the excitement on social media and talk radio.

“Well, he didn’t leave the base to go get a six-pack down at the local Stinker store, that’s all I know, brother,” said a caller to KBOI-AM talk-show host Nate Shellman in Boise.

Hailey Mayor Fritz Haemmerle issued a statement Monday saying that the city “respectfully requests that people do not pre-judge this young man.”

“There are those who have negative opinions about the release of Bowe Bergdahl and the City of Hailey’s planned celebration of the return of this young man to his hometown,” said Mr. Haemmerle. “Some of these negative e-mails do raise some very important points.”

The mayor said residents should wait for the results of an investigation before forming opinions on the innocence or guilt of Sgt. Bergdahl, who was released Friday after spending nearly five years in captivity in Afghanistan.

SEE ALSO: PRUDEN: Bowe Bergdahl, bad bargain

The Army announced Tuesday that it would undertake “a comprehensive, coordinated effort that will include speaking with Sgt. Bergdahl to better learn from him the circumstances of his disappearance and captivity.”

“If objective facts and a careful investigation reveal that Bowe Bergdahl should face consequences in a United States Courtroom, then the United States should do what it believes is necessary,” said Mr. Haemmerle. “On the other hand, if the same investigation shows that there is no evidence to support any action, then the process has worked, and people should take comfort that due process has been served.”

Sgt. Bergdahl’s capture had become a rallying point for residents in the resort community located in Idaho’s celebrity-studded Sun Valley. The town of 8,000 even threw an annual “Bring Bowe Back” concert in his honor.

Sue Martin, owner of Zaney’s River Street Coffee, told KIDK-TV in Boise that she turned on a lamp five years ago when he was captured. She says she’s waiting for Sgt. Bergdahl, who used to work at the coffee shop, to turn it off himself when he returns after receiving medical care in Germany.

“This long five-year road is now changing,” said Ms. Martin. “It’s not over, it’s just changing, and Bowe’s going to continue to need some support.”

Mr. Shellman told KTVB-TV in Boise that he took nearly 40 phone calls on Monday in two hours, and “that’s just calls. Emails, social network, Facebook, Twitter, all are going off. It’s very hard to keep up with it.”

Some callers to KBOI-AM said they weren’t thrilled with the trade, in which the White House released five Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for the sergeant.

“I am glad that Bowe is back. I don’t like the trade, but we live in the United States of America where it states that you are innocent until proven guilty. So all those wannabe jurors and judges can go take a long walk off a short pier,” said one caller.

Juanita Owens of Boise called Sgt. Bergdahl a “coward” and “traitor” on KBOI’s Facebook page. “Bring him up on charges NOW,” she added.

Republican Rep. Raul Labrador, whose Idaho district includes Hailey, told KBOI-AM on Tuesday that residents should wait for the facts to come out before jumping to conclusions.

“[T]here are a lot of questions. And I think all those questions are going to need to be answered,” said Mr. Labrador. “But now is not the time for those questions. I think now is the time for us to all share in the joy of the family and the city of Hailey and the state.”

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