June 8th, 2014
10:19 AM ET
2 months ago

Kerry defends Bergdahl swap

(CNN) – In his first public comments on the issue, Secretary of State John Kerry was unequivocal when discussing the Obama administration's commitment to monitoring the five Taliban figures exchanged for U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

"I'm not telling you that they don't have some ability at some point” to return to fighting, Kerry said in an interview that aired Sunday. "But they also have an ability to get killed doing that. And I don't think anybody should doubt the capacity of the United States of America to protect Americans."

Speaking to CNN’s Elise Labott in the seaside French village of Saint-Briac-sur-Mer, a few miles from Normandy, Kerry praised President Barack Obama's decision to swap five Taliban prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba - each of whom has experience on the battlefield - for Bergdahl, the last known prisoner of war in Afghanistan.

The secretary of state also waived off Republican criticism that the U.S. decision signifies the administration has taken its eyes off larger security questions, placing a price on the heads of American's abroad and opening a chasm for jihadists to rejoin the fight against the United States.

Kerry declined to give specifics about how the United States would track the former detainees, but he tried to erase concerns that these men could threaten American lives.

"No one should doubt the capacity of America to protect America," Kerry said when pressed about what the United States is doing to monitor the five Taliban fighters.

As the lights are cutting out on the war in Afghanistan, Kerry dismissed the notion that U.S. troops were suddenly more at risk because of the prisoner exchange.

"I just think that's a lot of baloney," he said.

"We are ending our combat role. Our combat role in Afghanistan is over. We're going to have very few people in that kind of position," he added.

But the wave of second-guessing and criticism of the administration's decision continued Sunday, as both Democrats and Republicans alike expressed discomfort with the Taliban fighters being placed under the Qatar’s custodianship.

"What we're doing here is reconstituting the Taliban government, the same guys that are mass murderers," Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, told CNN's Candy Crowley on Sunday.

Responding to Kerry's interview, McCain said he worried about the capacity of Qatar to prevent the five from returning to Afghanistan and fighting against allied forces. A former prisoner of war in Vietnam, McCain said he agreed that the United States has an "obligation to do whatever we can to bring an of our captured servicemen and women back."

In this instance though, he said the price was too high. "I wouldn't release these men," McCain said. "They were judged too great a risk. They're committed to returning to the fight."

Kerry and Pentagon officials, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, said they are satisfied with the conditions placed on the former Guantanamo detainees, but the Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman said she’s skeptical Qatar’s government will keep a watchful eye on them.

"I heard John Kerry say this morning, 'Don't worry about them in Doha,' " said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California. "You can't help but worry about them in Doha."

Questions over Bergdahl's past

Since his disappearance in 2009, Bergdahl remained a priority for the Obama administration, which made multiple attempts at brokering deals for his release. According to sources in the Defense Department, a deal with the Taliban gained traction when the possibility first emerged in 2011 but ultimately fell apart and was opposed by both Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, and his immediate successor, Leon Panetta. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also weighed in against such a bargain.

Part of why the deal has come under such scrutiny and further splintered lawmakers along partisan lines is the uncertainty over whether Bergdahl deliberately left his outpost of his own free will.

National security adviser Susan Rice drew the ire of Republicans in the immediate aftermath of the Bergdahl swap when she said he served with "honor and distinction," a statement since called into question by his some of his unit colleagues, who allege he may deserted. Asked by Labott if he agreed with Rice's remarks, Kerry said, "There's plenty of time to sort through" the questions revolving around Bergdahl's tenure in the armed forces.

"I don't know all the facts," Kerry said.

While some Republicans once called for Obama to work for Bergdahl's return, the murky circumstances of his capture have helped fuel questions over whether the administration struck a bad deal. Lawmakers from both parties accuse the administration of failing to provide 30 days' advance notice to Congress of a transfer of Guantanamo detainees, as required by law. The White House has given multiple reasons for the lack of notification, expressing concerns over leaks - and fears that word of the negotiations could end with Bergdahl's execution, and the urgent need to make the exchange because of Bergdahl's health.

Kerry tossed aside any suggestion that the price to bring home one of America's own was too high.

"It would have been offensive and incomprehensible to consciously leave an American behind - no matter what," Kerry said. "To leave an American behind in the hands of people who had tortured him, cut off his head, any number of things. And we would consciously choose to do that? That's the other side of this equation."

"I don't think anybody would think that is the appropriate thing to do," he said.


Filed under: Bowe Bergdahl • John Kerry • Obama administration
soundoff (90 Responses)
  1. Gurgyl

    Nothing wrong with getting him home. GOP is silly, stupid.

    June 8, 2014 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  2. romymon

    Kerry was a fake hero of the Vietnam War, and a coward who denounced his own country! It takes one to know one, as the old saying goes, so no one is surprised that Kerry is defending Bergdahl! No American soldier should be left behind. But if an American soldier denounces his own country, he stops being an American–like Kerry and Bergdahl–and they should be left behind to rot with their hosts! When captured, they should be fed to the sharks!

    June 8, 2014 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  3. Nameriw8w

    Wow
    fact. You are posted in a war zone, you abandon your post, you are a deserter. If you are out on R and R and you don't come back you are AWOL. Did Bowe help the enemy, we don't know yet for sure. Are the Talib an and Alquida terrorist? Yes they are, you support bad acts and bad people you are part of it. There is no defense for Obama or his actions he really believes he is a king and can do what ever he wants regardless of what we or our elected reps want. So libs quit with the personal attacks and bring out some real facts, oh and your man has been in official control for 6 years now so no it is not Bushes fault it is all on him ( hey dude that was years ago).

    June 8, 2014 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  4. Daniel

    What's a soldier got to do to get rescued? Have his legs chopped off? Bergdahl was tortured wasn't he? It is hard to take seriously what Diane Feinstein has to say about secrecy and transparency. The queen of the NSA lacks in the credibility of her critique. She's just mad that she didn't know about it (if that's even true).

    It’s OK to have mixed feelings about releasing enemy combatants. Prisoner swaps with your enemies at the end of a conflict is a normal action. Nothing is comfortable about it.

    The Taliban are the people who live in the country we invaded. They are our military opponents in Afghanistan, not terrorists. Stop calling everyone terrorist. Conservatives were calling Iraqi citizens who decided to defend their country, during our invasion, terrorist when they were in fact insurgents. If an Iraqi or an Afgan picks up a rifle to defend their land that we are invading they aren't terrorists.

    GITMO is 5 prisoners closer to being closed and that's what matters to me. These 5 released had not been charged with anything and if we as a people of our nation believe in due process and the rule of law then we have to be OK with this prisoner exchange.

    The predictable outrage from the right on this is just another example of how Republicans can't take credit for anything so they aren't going to give credit for anything. Conservatives of today have no honor.

    June 8, 2014 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  5. Anonymous

    Do a quick Internet search on "bergdahl unit" and read up on what the guys of Second Platoon, Blackfoot Company in the First Battalion, 501st Regiment were really like.
    =============================

    This is what happens when a sitting President of the United States openly suggests we've started a war on the "Axis of Evil". Many of those serving in the past 13 years grew up and were conditioned to think all Muslims are evil and as such need to be destroyed. Many more saw themselves as avengers for America. It hasn't quite worked out the way they were conditioned and they have no where to vent their anger but on media outlets. It will be a good day in the world at large when this war is finally over and we no longer need worry over which American's Bill O'Reilly thinks looks like a Muslim.

    June 8, 2014 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  6. Janet Nappylotto

    I love it how ObamaBots whine and cry:
    "So and so did it and it is wrong. But since Obama did it it is okay"
    "It's someone else's fault"
    "Who cares if Obama breaks the law"

    Fact: the VA wait list debacle was closing in on him and he needed a feel good story

    Fact: Obama pushes the release without Congressional approval

    Fact: Lies that it was a spur of the moment decision, then says they had months to plan

    Fact: "Served with honor and distinction" though he abandoned his post and disowned the Army.

    The Obama Aministration botched again.

    June 8, 2014 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  7. don in albuquerque

    Blake and Anonymous
    Correct and correct. I would be willing to bet if you follow the money from Faux and other News agencies you will find some hefty deposits to the accounts of the "honorable" soldiers accusing Bergdahl. I mean they have already admitted tossing out their non-disclosure statements (if indeed there were any signed in the first place) and should by all rights be facing some pretty stiff action from the government which they have in effect betrayed. There are NO cold hard facts in this case as yet and when there are I would be willing to bet a few people other then Bergdahl find a new can of worms has been opened.
    But all that aside. From one American to another–"Welcome home Bowe. Glad you are finally safe." All that need, or should have been said. And certainly should have never been turned into the cheapest, nastiest, political game I have seen in my lifetime. Thanks GOTP.

    June 8, 2014 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  8. don in albuquerque

    romymon
    Tough to be God, huh.

    June 8, 2014 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  9. sifto

    Amazing how these people defend kerry and obama and bowe and care not for his dead platoon members..news to some of you..obama hasbeen killing innocents with drones for 5 years+..bush and cheney are no longer in power..have not made decisions for 5 years..wake up and watch the news!

    June 8, 2014 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  10. Rick McDaniel

    Not defensible. Not in any way.

    June 8, 2014 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  11. Thomas

    @Nameriw8w
    Wow
    fact. You are posted in a war zone, you abandon your post, you are a deserter. If you are out on R and R and you don't come back you are AWOL. Did Bowe help the enemy, we don't know yet for sure. Are the Talib an and Alquida terrorist? Yes they are, you support bad acts and bad people you are part of it. There is no defense for Obama or his actions he really believes he is a king and can do what ever he wants regardless of what we or our elected reps want. So libs quit with the personal attacks and bring out some real facts, oh and your man has been in official control for 6 years now so no it is not Bushes fault it is all on him ( hey dude that was years ago).

    =====

    It must be nice to rush to judgment without the facts ?

    Why blame Bush for morons who follow without conscience of forethought .

    Rick Perry / Rand Paul
    A corn dog for your thoughts 2016

    June 8, 2014 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  12. fla Voter

    Chip them and send them all back home.... Give them 6 months or so to get acclimated and drone the heck out of there various locations if they appear to be in locations deemed questionable.

    Certain groups do not want the self appointed U.S. Gods to dictate how they live so they will continually hate America attempting to force it's ideology on them.

    One last thing Maybe after John McCain's taped!! confession maybe he should still be in Vietnamese control and not in the U.S. playing the fake chicken hawk. No he should have been brought home and deal with due process.

    Politicians seeking their own personal FINANCIAL!!l gain through political office are dividing the country weakening the U.S.

    June 8, 2014 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  13. Marie MD

    Five Taliban cannot do more harm to our country than the teaklans and their Canadian terrorist or the rest of the one term president klan have done in the last six years.
    The teaklan war is against everything good for everyone except the rich!

    June 8, 2014 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  14. Thomas

    What a wonderful continuation of an abortion of foreign policy this administration has heaped upon us. God help me, but I am wondering if Hillary would not have been a better choice in 2008...

    June 8, 2014 05:11 pm at 5:11 pm |
  15. Allen Snowdon

    B-E-R-G-D-A-H-L
    B-E-N-G-H-A-Z-I

    Could the connection be any more obvious?
    Perhaps Darrel Issa will connect the dots...

    June 8, 2014 06:20 pm at 6:20 pm |
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