Bergdahl's hometown cancels planned welcome-back celebration

Unfortunate, not because Bergdahl deserves a hero’s welcome but because it sounds like these people have been drowning in vitriol over the last few days for the crime of giving the benefit of the doubt to a hometown boy. (“(We’re) really surprised at the people who are calling — they are hate calls, they’re not just people voicing an opinion.”) If you knew him when he was a kid, know his parents, and heard nothing about his captivity except the fact that he’s spent five years in the company of jihadi degenerates, you might want to celebrate his release too.

Not anymore, though. Go figure that, with half a dozen members of his unit on TV accusing him of desertion and rumbles of outright collaboration with the Taliban echoing in the press, the town’s suddenly less eager to brand itself with Bergdahlmania.

The hometown of U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl has canceled a rally planned for later this month celebrating his release from five years of Taliban captivity, a municipal official told Reuters on Wednesday, amid allegations that he was a deserter.

Heather Dawson, the city administrator of Hailey, Idaho, said town officials called off the June 28 event at the request of organizers because the town “will be unable to safely manage the number of people expected.”

They had planned a “Bowe Is Back” celebration for June 28th, with Carole King expected to sing and up to 15,000 people attending, including thousands of bikers from Boise’s POW/MIA group. The fact that they’re now claiming they can’t “safely manage” it has less to do with the numbers they’re expecting, I assume, than the tenor of the crowd that’s likely to turn out. The first poll on the prisoner swap is out today and shows the country — surprisingly — evenly split, with 40 percent supporting the deal and 43 percent against. Imagine members of those two groups in each other’s faces in close quarters at the Idaho event, with accusations of treason being tossed around, and you can see why safety might be an issue.

By the way, it’s not just members of Bergdahl’s unit who have suspicions about him. WaPo tracked down some of the Afghans who lived in the area when Bergdahl went missing in 2009. They claim to remember him.

Locals remember Bergdahl walking through the village in a haze. They later told Afghan investigators that they had warned the American that he was heading into a dangerous area.

“They tried to tell him not to go there, that it is dangerous. But he kept going over the mountain. The villagers tried to give him water and bread, but he didn’t take it,” said Ibrahim Manikhel, the district’s intelligence chief.

“We think he probably was high after smoking hashish,” Manikhel said. “Why would an American want to find the Taliban?”

“I hope the U.S. can re-arrest the Talibs that they released,” added one of the villagers, drily. Actually, though, their account is the best (and maybe only) defense yet of Bergdahl’s desertion. As damning as it is that he was apparently hellbent on making it to Taliban territory, the fact that he seemed to be “in a haze” and was suspected of being high could be the kernel of a defense for Bergdahl to the desertion charges. “I smoked something on base that I shouldn’t have and, the next thing I knew, the Taliban was all around me,” he could say. That’s implausible given all the evidence against him that Michael Hastings noted in Rolling Stone, including e-mails sent to his father days earlier that seemed to foreshadow something dramatic, but it’s something.

Here’s Tapper latest interview with someone who knew Bergdahl — former Staff Sgt. Justin Gerleve, his squad leader. He too thinks Bergdahl deserted. Pay attention to Tapper’s question and Gerleve’s answer at around 2:00, about how much more accurate and lethal Taliban attacks on U.S. convoys became after Bergdahl disappeared. Evan Buetow, Bergdahl’s team leader on the night he went missing, also raised that point yesterday. The men who were closest to Bergdahl in Afghanistan evidently think he did more than just walk away.

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