Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen condemned the White House visit by the parents of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. soldier held captive in Afghanistan for five years, as “utterly repellent,” even though Cohen acknowledged that the circumstances surrounding Bergdahl's capture are unclear.
In a June 4 post, Cohen attacked President Obama for inviting Bergdahl's parents to the White House on May 31 to announce that his release had been secured. Noting reports that Bergdahl may have been captured by Taliban combatants after leaving his post on his own volition, Cohen labeled Bergdahl a “deserter” despite admitting that the “ultimate truth about Bergdahl has yet to be determined” :
On Jan. 31, 1945, the U.S. Army executed a soldier from Detroit named Eddie Slovik. He was what we would now call a loser -a petty thief, a self-proclaimed coward and, by his admission, a deserter. He was the first U.S. soldier executed for desertion since the Civil War and, as far as I can tell, the last. He soon became the subject of a book and a movie - and then slipped into history, ignominious and pathetic in death and now almost entirely forgotten.
Now, all these years later, deserters are treated somewhat differently. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is accused by some of his Army colleagues of deserting his post in Afghanistan, leaving behind his weapon and his body armor. He was taken prisoner by the Taliban and was just swapped for five terrorists who were being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. If the charges are true, the Taliban got back valuable and esteemed warriors and the United States got a deserter.
Cohen went on to question the President's “huggy session” with the Bergdahls and made clear that he is “not for executing deserters, but I am not for hugging parents, either” :
But the Rose Garden production sticks in my craw -- Obama leaving with his arms around Bergdahl's mother and father. So touching. So warm. So utterly repellent! Did the president know that their son was being accused of desertion? Did he care? As commander in chief, did he ponder what he owed the many millions of soldiers who were also scared or fed up with war -- but did not allegedly amble off? Did he consider how Bergdahl's platoon was exposed and what could happen to the men who went out in search of him?
Truly, I find it necessary to have retrieved Bergdahl ... in some way. The freeing of five killers of Americans as part of the deal bothers me, but maybe there was no other way. But I am even more bothered, though, that the president and his incautious mouthpiece Susan Rice -- she said Bergdahl served “with honor and distinction” -- turned what had to be a sordid but possibly necessary deal into a virtual patriotic exercise. It was fundamentally a lie. It was frankly sickening.
Cohen's column echoes right-wing attacks on Bergdahl's father, Bob, who grew out his beard in solidarity with his captive son. Fox contributor Laura Ingraham claimed Bob Bergdahl looked like a “terrorist,” and Fox host Bill O'Reilly said he was “insulted” by his appearance at the Rose Garden.
While Cohen claimed to be “sicken[ed]” by the treatment of the Bergdahls, he has also written that “people with conventional views must repress a gag reflex” when considering interracial families.