Bergdahl's hometown cancels celebration amid furor

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By Brian Skoloff and Rahim Faiez

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Bergdahl's hometown cancels celebration amid furor
This undated image provided by the U.S. Army shows Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. U.S. officials have received a new video of Bergdahl that they believe was taken within the last month, showing that the soldier is alive. The video came to light several days ago, said one senior defense official. Another official said that Bergdahl appeared in poorer health than previous videos, showing the signs of his nearly five years in captivity. Bergdahl, who is from Idaho, was taken prisoner in Afghanistan on June 30, 2009. In a statement released Wednesday, Bergdahl’s family said that they learned today, Jan. 15, 2014, about the video. (AP Photo/U.S. Army)
File - In this file image taken from video obtained from Voice Of Jihad Website, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, sits in a vehicle guarded by the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan. The U.S. military says it will make an announcement Wednesday on the case against Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the soldier who left his post in Afghanistan and was held by the Taliban for five years before being released in a prisoner exchange. (AP Photo/Voice Of Jihad Website via AP video, File)
In this image taken from video obtained from Voice Of Jihad Website, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, right, stands with a Taliban fighter in eastern Afghanistan. The Taliban on Wednesday, June 4, 2014, released a video showing the handover of Bergdahl to U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan, touting the swap of the American soldier for five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo as a significant achievement for the insurgents. Bergdahl was freed on Saturday after five years in captivity, and exchanged for the five Guantanamo detainees who were flown to Qatar, a tiny Gulf Arab country which has served as a mediator in the negotiations for the swap. (AP Photo/Voice Of Jihad Website via AP video)
FILE - This undated photo provided by the Bergdahl family and released by the Idaho National Guard shows Pfc. Bowe R. Bergdahl, 23, of Ketchum, Idaho. A Taliban spokesman, Shaheen Suhail, in an exclusive telephone interview with The Associated Press from the newly opened Taliban offices in Doha, Qatar, said Thursday, that they are ready to hand over U.S. soldier Pfc. Bowe R. Bergdahl held captive since 2009 in exchange for five of their senior operatives being held at the Guantanamo Bay prison. The U.S. is scrambling to save talks with the Taliban after angry complaints from Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai. (AP Photo/The Bergdahl Family, File)
In this image taken from video obtained from Voice Of Jihad Website, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, A Taliban fighter speaks to Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, in eastern Afghanistan. The Taliban on Wednesday, June 4, 2014 released a video showing the handover of Bergdahl to U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan, touting the swap of the American soldier for five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo as a significant achievement for the insurgents. (AP Photo/Voice Of Jihad Website via AP video)
In this image taken from video obtained from Voice Of Jihad Website, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl sits in a vehicle guarded by the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan. The Taliban have released a video showing the handover of Bergdahl to U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan. The video, emailed to media on Wednesday, shows Bergdahl in traditional Afghan clothing sitting in a pickup truck parked on a hillside. More than a dozen Taliban fighters with machine guns stand around the truck and on the hillside. (AP Photo/Voice Of Jihad Website via AP video)
In this image taken from video obtained from Voice Of Jihad Website, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, Men in civilian clothing lead Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, in white, towards a helicopter in eastern Afghanistan. The Taliban on Wednesday, June 4, 2014 released a video showing the handover of Bergdahl to U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan, touting the swap of the American soldier for five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo as a significant achievement for the insurgents. (AP Photo/Voice Of Jihad Website via AP video)
Jani and Bob Bergdahl speak to the media during a news conference at Gowen Field in Boise, Idaho, on Sunday, June 1, 2014. Their son, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is back in American hands, freed for five Guantanamo terrorism detainees. (AP Photo/Otto Kitsinger)
SAN ANTONIO, TX - JUNE 13: (From left) Colonel Bradley Poppen, Ph.D., Major General Joseph P. DiSalvo, and Colonel Ronald N. Wool deliver a press conference at the Fort Sam Houston Golf Course July 13, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas. They are reporting on Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, his return to the United States, and reintegration at Brooke Army Medical Center after being a prison of war under Taliban captivity. (Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)
In this image from video, people are greeted on arrival at Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio, early Friday morning June 13, 2014. Bowe Bergdahl, the Army sergeant who has been recovering in Germany after five years as a Taliban captive, returned to the United States on this plane to continue his medical treatment. (AP Photo/Manis Calco)
Jani Bergdahl looks to Bob Bergdahl, as he speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Saturday, May 31, 2014, about the release of their son, U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, during a news conference with President Barack Obama. Bergdahl, 28, had been held prisoner by the Taliban since June 30, 2009. He was handed over to U.S. special forces by the Taliban in exchange for the release of five Afghan detainees held by the United States. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 31: President Barack Obama walks with the parents of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, Jani Bergdahl (L) and Bob Bergdahl (R) back to the Oval Office after making a statement regarding the release of Sgt. Bergdahl from captivity May 31, 2014 in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, DC. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was held captive by militants for almost five years during the war in Afghanistan. (Photo by J.H. Owen-Pool/Getty Images)
Bob Bergdahl, the father of freed US soldier Bowe Bergdahl, speaks following the release of his son, US soldier Bowe Bergdahl, in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 31, 2014 in Washington, DC. US President Barack Obama and the Bergdahl's spoke after the release of Bowe Bergdahl by the Taliban in Afghanistan.  MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
Supporters of freed prisoner of war US Army soldier Bowe Bergdahl including representatives of the ANSWER Coalition, CODEPINK and March Forward, rally in front of the White House in Washington, DC, June 10, 2014, to welcome Bergdahl home after 5-years of being held by the Taliban in Afghanistan. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Brooke Army Medical Center is shown Friday, June 13, 2014, in San Antonio. Bowe Bergdahl, the Army sergeant who has been recovering in Germany after five years as a Taliban captive, returned to the United States early Friday to continue his medical treatment at the facility. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Vehicles drive toward the entrance of Brooke Army Medical Center Friday, June 13, 2014, in San Antonio. Bowe Bergdahl, the Army sergeant who has been recovering in Germany after five years as a Taliban captive, returned to the United States early Friday to continue his medical treatment at the facility. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Col. Bradley Poppen answers a question during a news conference regarding Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and the Phase III Reintegration process, Friday, June 13, 2014, in San Antonio, Texas. Bergdahl, the Army sergeant who has been recovering in Germany after five years as a Taliban captive, returned to the United States early Friday to continue his medical treatment at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 11: U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel testifies before the House Armed Services Committee about the about the prisoner exchange that freed Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill June 11, 2014 in Washington, DC. The trade of Bergdahl for five senior Taliban officials has angered some members of Congress because they were not informed of the swap beforehand. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 11: U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel listens during a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee June 11, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held the hearing to examine the exchange of five Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay for the release of U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl who had been held for almost five years by the insurgents in Afghanistan. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Col. Ronald Wool answers a question about Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's food requests, during a news conference Friday, June 13, 2014, in San Antonio. Bergdahl, the Army sergeant who has been recovering in Germany after five years as a Taliban captive, returned to the United States early Friday to continue his medical treatment at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. Wool is in charge of Bergdahl’s medical care while at the facility. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Gulf War veteran Ron Coumerilh wears a sticker to support captive U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl at the "Bring Bowe Back" celebration in Hailey, Idaho, Saturday, June 22, 2013. Hundreds of activists for missing service members gathered in a small Idaho town Saturday to hear the parents of the only known U.S. prisoner of war speak just days after his Taliban captors announced they want to exchange him for prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
HAILEY, ID - JUNE 01: A sign announcing the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl sits in the window of the Hailey Paint and Supply store on Main Street June 1, 2014 in Hailey, Idaho. Sgt. Bergdahl was captured in Afghanistan in 2009 while serving with U.S. Armys 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment in Paktika Province. Yesterday he was released after a swap for 5 prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay was arranged. Bergdahl was considered the only U.S. prisoner of war held in Afghanistan. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
This Friday, June 21, 2013 photo shows a yellow ribbon tied to a tree and a banner honoring captive U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in Hailey, Idaho. The Afghan war, and the taking of Bergdahl, may have long faded from the minds of most Americans. But for this community in the shadow of Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains, Bowe Bergdahl and his family's fight to free him are "omnipresent," said local Wesley Deklotz. "It's a whole community of people that are keeping him in their thoughts." (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
A tattered sign supporting U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who is currently being held captive by the Taliban in Afghanistan, hangs outside a coffee shop in Hailey, Idaho, Friday, June 21, 2013. The Afghan war, and the taking of this POW, may have long faded from the minds of most Americans. But for this community in the shadow of Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains, Bowe Bergdahl and his family's fight to free him are "omnipresent," said local Wesley Deklotz. "It's a whole community of people that are keeping him in their thoughts." (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
The image of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl of Hailey, Idaho, who is being held captive in Afghanistan, is worn by an audience member as he father Bob, not pictured, speaks at the the annual Rolling Thunder rally for POW/MIA awareness, in Washington, Sunday, May 27, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
A POW-MIA flag flies in front of a pharmacy displaying a sign in support of bringing home U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who is currently being held captive by the Taliban in Afghanistan, in Hailey, Idaho, Friday, June 21, 2013. The Afghan war, and the taking of this POW, may have long faded from the minds of most Americans. But for this community in the shadow of Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains, Bowe Bergdahl and his family's fight to free him are "omnipresent," said local Wesley Deklotz. "It's a whole community of people that are keeping him in their thoughts." (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
A "Bring Bowe Back" sign honoring captive U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is seen through a POW-MIA flag in Hailey, Idaho, Saturday, June 22, 2013. The father and mother of the only known U.S. prisoner of war plan to speak on Saturday afternoon to a big crowd in their central Idaho hometown just days after his Taliban captors announced they want to exchange him for prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
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HAILEY, Idaho (AP) - Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's hometown abruptly canceled plans Wednesday for a welcome-home celebration, citing security concerns over the prospect of big crowds - both for and against the soldier.

The town of 8,000 has been swamped with hate mail and angry calls over Bergdahl, whose release after five years of Taliban captivity in Afghanistan has touched off a debate over whether the 28-year-old should be given a hero's welcome or punished as a deserter.

Meanwhile, the Taliban released a 17-minute video of his handover showing a thin, tense-looking Bergdahl being patted down for explosives by U.S. forces before climbing aboard an American helicopter in the dusty Afghanistan desert.

Just before he was turned over, one of his Taliban captors leaned in and warned him: "Don't come back to Afghanistan. You won't make it out alive next time." His captors waved goodbye as he was led away.

In Hailey, organizers of a celebration that had been scheduled for June 28 issued a statement saying the town doesn't have the means to handle such an event, given the prospect of big crowds on both sides of the debate.

"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," Police Chief Jeff Gunter said.


Hailey, Idaho, Cancels Bergdahl Homecoming Celebration

The town has had an event called "Bring Bowe Back" for several years. When news broke over the weekend of Bergdahl's release in exchange for five Taliban detainees at Guantanamo Bay, organizers had announced it would be a welcome-home party instead.

Hailey Chamber of Commerce President Jane Drussel said she and the organization have received hate mail and calls from people lambasting the town and branding Bergdahl un-American and a traitor.

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

Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban after walking away from his unit, unarmed, in 2009.

U.S. lawmakers and others have also complained that Congress should have been consulted about the prisoner exchange, that the deal will embolden the Taliban to snatch more American soldiers, and that the released Afghans will filter back to the battlefield.

In Washington, Rob Williams, the U.S. national intelligence officer for South Asia, told the Senate intelligence committee Tuesday that four of the men are expected to resume activities with the Taliban, according to two senior congressional officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the session was classified.

The five include the former Taliban interior minister, who was described in a U.S. case file leaked by WikiLeaks as having had close ties to Osama bin Laden; the Taliban's former deputy chief of intelligence; and a former member of a joint Taliban-al-Qaida cell.

The video of Bergdahl after five years in captivity shows a well-choreographed release, with the American sitting in a silver pickup truck while more than a dozen Taliban fighters with machine guns and faces largely covered by scarves stand guard nearby and on a rocky hill overlooking the site.

Wearing traditional loose-fitting Afghan trousers and a long tunic, Bergdahl, his head shaved, blinks frequently and looks tense as he peers out of the truck. At one point, he wipes his eye as if to get rid of some dust.

A Black Hawk helicopter lands, kicking up a cloud of dust. Two Taliban fighters, one carrying a white flag tied to a long, crooked stick, lead Bergdahl, now carrying a plastic bag, halfway toward the chopper.

Three apparent members of U.S. special operations forces approach the group, shake hands with the two Taliban fighters and take Bergdahl toward the helicopter.

One of the three men pats down Bergdahl, while another takes the plastic bag from him and drops it on the ground. Then they all climb into the helicopter.

According to a voiceover on the video, the handover took place around 4 p.m. Saturday in rugged Khost province, near the Pakistani border.

Back in the U.S., Sue Martin, a friend of the Bergdahl family and owner of Zaney's Coffee Shop in Hailey, said Bergdahl's appearance in the video shocked her. She said he looked frail, tired and damaged.

"That's not the Bowe who left here and lived here," Martin said.

Bergdahl was reported to be in stable condition at a military hospital in Germany.

A Taliban statement, also distributed to the media, quoted leader Mullah Mohammad Omar as saying the release of the five Taliban was a significant achievement for the movement.

President Barack Obama has defended the swap, citing a "sacred" obligation to not leave men and women in uniform behind.

On Capitol Hill, Obama's goal of closing the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba faced re-energized opposition from Republicans and increased questioning from fellow Democrats in reaction to the trade.

Hoping to ease mounting criticism, officials from the State Department, Pentagon and intelligence agencies briefed senators behind closed doors Wednesday evening. They showed the lawmakers a 1½-minute video provided by the Taliban that proved Bergdahl was alive and indicated to the administration that his deteriorating health required quick action.

"He didn't look good," said Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill.

U.S. negotiations with the Taliban to secure Bergdahl's release have gathered steam since April. Besides the chance that his health was in decline, administration officials also wanted to make a deal because they knew that the drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan would decrease resources on the ground and reduce the amount and quality of intelligence from the area.

The administration is required to notify Congress 30 days before transferring Guantanamo detainees, but the White House thought waiting was too risky - that too much could go wrong in a month so they went forward with the fast-moving negotiations.

Bergdahl was released less than 30 days after the U.S. signed a memorandum of understanding with Qatar that gave the White House assurances that the detainees, after being transferred to Doha, the capital of Qatar, would adhere to a one-year travel ban and other restrictions. Bergdahl was freed just one day after the White House received a green light from the military that the operation was a go - and less than an hour passed between the time the U.S. learned the transfer was about to happen and Bergdahl walked to freedom.

Some of Bergdahl's former comrades have complained that U.S. soldiers died during the search for him after he walked away. The military has not confirmed such a link.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday that the Army will review the case, and he cautioned against drawing conclusions until then.

"We don't do that in the United States. We rely on facts," he said at a NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels.

Lee Ann Ferris, a neighbor of the Bergdahls in Hailey, said the town is trying not to pay attention to the criticism of the soldier and the talk about how he fell into Taliban hands.

"It's like a modern-day lynching. He hasn't even been able to give his side of the story yet. This community will welcome him back no matter what," she said.

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