Freed US soldier Bergdahl′s hometown cancels return celebration | News | DW | 05.06.2014
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Freed US soldier Bergdahl's hometown cancels return celebration

The hometown of freed US Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl has canceled a homecoming parade over safety fears. Protests had been expected amid accusations Bergdahl, held by the Taliban for almost five years, deserted his post.

Organizers in the town of Hailey, Idaho, said on Wednesday they were canceling plans for the June 28 celebration after being inundated with hostile emails and phone calls over the alleged desertion.

Bergdahl - currently being treated at a military hospital in Germany - was handed over on Saturday under the terms of a deal that saw five senior Taliban operatives held at Guantanamo Bay transferred to Qatar.

Officials cited safety concerns as the principal reason for the cancelation, saying they lacked the necessary resources and infrastructure to cope with thousands of supporters and protesters who were expected to arrive.

"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," said Police Chief Jeff Gunter.

'Joy, not so joyful'

Pressure had already been placed on city officials, who said they had received a torrent of negative phone calls and emails, following claims by Bergdahl's former comrades that he had deliberately left his post.

Chamber of Commerce President Jane Drussel said her organization had received hate mail and calls deriding the town and branding Bergdahl "un-American."

"The joy has all of a sudden become not so joyful," she said.

Some critics claim that an initial search for Bergdahl, who disappeared under mysterious circumstances on June 30, 2009, may have led to the deaths of up to six fellow US soldiers.

Dazed and confused

During the captivity of Bergdahl, believed to have been the only US soldier still being held by the Taliban in Afghanistan, Hailey has held regular "Bring Bowe Back" events.

A video of Bergdahl's release was made public by the Taliban on Wednesday, showing the soldier apparently dazed and confused as he was led towards a US helicopter and patted down to check for explosives.

Meanwhile, controversy has raged in Washington about the prisoner swap, with senators claiming that it had set a precedent that would encourage the capture of US service personnel by insurgents and terrorists seeking the release of other detainees.

The Guantanamo detainees are to be held by authorities in Qatar for another year under the terms of the deal.

rc/jlw (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)