“In the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate.”
That’s the simple phrase that Robert Bergdahl, father of freed Army Sgt. Bow Bergdahl, said in Arabic at press conference with President Barack Obama on Sunday. The father proceeded to speak in Pashtu, also known as Afghani, because he said his son might have difficulty understanding English after five years in captivity.
Jani Bergdahl, the mother of freed US soldier Bowe Bergdahl, speaks to the press while her husband Bob Bergdahl and US President Barack Obama look on in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 31, 2014 in Washington, DC. Obama and the Bergdahls spoke after the release of Bowe Bergdahl by the Taliban in Afghanistan. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN
So why did Robert Bergdahl use the phrase? Exactly what message was he trying to send?
That’s the debate that’s currently raging on the Internet, with some alleging that the father was “claiming” the White House for Islam and others downplaying it as a very common, innocent phrase. Meanwhile, many people are simply struggling to understand why he chose that specific phrase and if there is more significance to it than meets the eye.
Independent Journal Review’s Kyle Becker speculates, “There may be an unknown explanation for why Robert Bergdahl might say this at the press conference. It may have been another ‘condition’ of his son’s release; yet, we can’t know that because Obama made the deal unilaterally and illegally, since he did not consult Congress.”
Clare Lopez, a former CIA operations officer and senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy, claimed in a controversial post that Robert Bergdahl “sanctified the WH and claimed it for Islam” by saying the phrase at the press conference.
Think Progress’ Ben Armbruster in a June 3 post, mocked those who are reading into the popular Islamic wording.
“We should note that, if Lopez’s analysis were right, the White House was likely already ‘claimed’ for Islam long ago — in December 1805, at an Iftar dinner hosted by President Thomas Jefferson,” he writes.
Bob Bergdahl speaks to the media during a press conference at Gowen Field in Boise, Idaho, on Sunday, June 1, 2014. Bergdahl, the father of an American soldier just released from captivity in Afghanistan says he's proud of how far his son, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, was willing to go to help the Afghan people. (AP Photo/Otto Kitsinger)
FILE - This file image provided by IntelCenter on Wednesday Dec. 8, 2010 shows a frame grab from a video released by the Taliban containing footage of a man believed to be Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, left. The nearly five-year effort to free the only American soldier held captive in Afghanistan is scattered among numerous federal agencies with a loosely organized group of people working on it mostly part time, according to two members of Congress and military officials involved in the effort. An ever-shrinking U.S. military presence in Afghanistan has re-focused attention on efforts to bring home Bergdahl, who has been held by the Taliban since June 30, 2009. (AP Photo/IntelCenter, File)
The uttering of a popular Islamic phrase is certainly not strange by itself. However, critics are pointing to several other strange messages and tweets to identify an apparent pattern that could be cause for concern, particularly as the circumstances of Bowe Bergdahl’s capture are in question.
As previously reported by TheBlaze, Robert Bergdahl tweeted — and then deleted — the following message: “I am still working to free all Guantanamo prisoners. God will repay for the death of every Afghan child, amen!”
On June 1, he then tweeted a 2012 video report by the Guardian about Tunisians being held at Guantanamo Bay. “Ten years in Guantanamo: Tunisian families hope for loved ones’ release,” the tweet said.
“In another instance, Bergdahl appeared to have retweeted a Taliban representative linking to a news article detailing how the militant Islamist group stormed a base and killed ‘as many as 25 US cowardly troops,’” TheBlaze’s Oliver Darcy reports.
Robert Bergdahl claimed on Sunday that he follows “a bunch of jihadis” on Twitter because they are “great sources of information.” He also argued that “direct communications is the key to resolving conflict.”
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the fact that "bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim" is a common Arabic phrase. Robert Bergdahl went on to speak in Pashtu.