June 8th, 2014
10:19 AM ET
4 years 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. Name JK. SFL. THE GOP HOWDEE GOWDEE SHOW with special guest ISSA the CLOWN

    We got our soldier back. The army will check him out, if he broke the law , he will be felt with like any other soldier, end of story!!!! The GOP is always trying to smear Obama for anything he does. That's why the GOP HAS NO CREDIBILITY ON ANYTHING !!!!!!

    June 8, 2014 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  2. Chris

    "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.

    If this is the case....why did we have to make a deal with terrorists? why didn't we just track OUR guy down and bring him back? The pandora's Box is opened up now........ this whole deal stinks.

    June 8, 2014 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  3. Wedge

    The problem for the administration with this story is just how many parts of the story reflect poorly on them. Releasing five of the worst terrorists for a suspected deserter (a 2010 investigation said as much); ignoring the law to inform congress prior to releasing anyone from GITMO; strongly/proudly representing the release of a "hero" who "served honorably" when they knew otherwise; saying that he was very ill, his health deteriorated when clearly this is not the case. The attacks on the family back in Idaho are completely idiotic. But Obama and his team look really bad right now.

    June 8, 2014 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  4. Vijay

    Karl Rove and W are real traitors, because of them, Why we are still in Afghanistan...

    June 8, 2014 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  5. guy

    if potus didn't "SPIKE THAT FOOTBALL" in the Rose Garden in a major Hollywood production theme made for "Legacy" reasons, would JAY CARNEY still be in 'da house?
    yes, just let that one digest

    June 8, 2014 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  6. Ladokguy

    So the swift-boating of John Kerry continues, a man who served honorably in Vietnam, while draft-dodging cowards like Cheney needlessly sent American soldiers to their deaths and now criticize every foreign policy move this administration makes.

    June 8, 2014 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  7. Spenderh

    Why would we need to kill them? The President promised us that they wouldn't be a threat to the United States.

    June 8, 2014 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  8. Bob

    Tell me it isn't so, After the GOP yelling that Obama did wrong (when have they not said this) their guy if he had been elected would have done the same thing. Go figure.

    June 8, 2014 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  9. Mr

    Was that a threat from Kerry to kill the swapped murderers if they go back to their old ways? POTUS has been good at seeking and destroying targets. That much I will give him.

    June 8, 2014 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  10. tarura

    This country has been held POW for the last 5 years

    June 8, 2014 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  11. yitkis

    I have already accustomed to having an overt enemy of the USA, a protector of muslim terrorists that we managed to capture, an overt agent of our enemies as our president. Those who do not agree, please answer one question: what would be the difference between the actions of a proven foreign agent in the WH in the position of the president and the actions of Obama? The answer is: none!!! So, speaking like Hillary – what difference does it make?!!

    So that is OK, I have already accustomed to that. But tell me please, what would be the difference between the support he would get if the democrats were all spies and agents working for our enemies and our real democrats who consider themselves patriots? The answer is: NONE!!

    June 8, 2014 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  12. Anthony

    Sounds like a bargin basement deal just sell the country Kerry import more terrorist so this country bend over for anyone who wants to screw America.You and President loser Obama should go live an in these countries.

    June 8, 2014 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  13. Jim

    Whether Obama is banking on the five released terrorists will return to their leadership posts as an opportunity to kill them or not, does not justify trading them for a deserter. The facts are coming out that Bergdahl is a deserter and collaborator with the enemy and likely caused the deaths of Americans. He is no hero and Rice and Kerry knows that too. A very bad precedent to set – negotiating with terrorists – as it will place other Americans at increased risk of becoming hostages to leverage for more releases.

    June 8, 2014 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  14. SixDegrees

    "Kerry defends Bergdahl swap"

    Only now? Has he been out on his yacht for the last week?

    June 8, 2014 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  15. Scott A

    Of course he defends the position, He is as bad as the man himself

    June 8, 2014 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  16. tom smith

    How stupid...Kerry is part of ...the political process that let a deserter go....and part of the process that got honorable lives of our troops killed...what would one expect Kerry to say...and for those who remember the situation with kerry and his award for putting himself in for the purple heart...kerry and honor should be questioned...again...one still questions where honor and the democratic party seem to be mis-led....the president again only talks about honor to our military troops, and turns around and honors deserters...one could only surmise this is the standard of the liberal democratic party....and not the american way..........home of the brave

    June 8, 2014 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  17. tarura

    The issue is not Bergdahl, but the swap,
    it's about breaking the law by POTUS
    and compromising national security.
    Of course, it may all be ok,
    if Susan Rice says so

    Besides, Bergdahl has not been freed,
    he has been captured, finally.

    June 8, 2014 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  18. Liz

    Another one trying to justify a complete blunder. Five terrorist, for one accused deserter! Kerry supports this, he threw his medals over the WH fence ( sorry, someone elses medals)>

    June 8, 2014 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  19. cfd

    Like he has a choice

    June 8, 2014 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  20. Susan

    There is no doubt that when any of the 5 released terrorists are involved in the deaths of american citizens, john kerry will sit down and pen a very stern letter to the taliban.

    June 8, 2014 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  21. rs

    yitkis
    I have already accustomed to having an overt enemy of the USA, a protector of muslim terrorists that we managed to capture, an overt agent of our enemies as our president. Those who do not agree, please answer one question: what would be the difference between the actions of a proven foreign agent in the WH in the position of the president and the actions of Obama? The answer is: none!!! So, speaking like Hillary – what difference does it make?!!

    So that is OK, I have already accustomed to that. But tell me please, what would be the difference between the support he would get if the democrats were all spies and agents working for our enemies and our real democrats who consider themselves patriots? The answer is: NONE!!
    _______________
    Paranoid, fact less claptrap.

    In a few short months, when this war is over- all of the Gitmo detainees walk- UNLESS they are charged, tried and found guilty of crimes. GET THAT?So far the GOP has blocked that. They are too scared of having them go through our court system- one that is very adept at convicting terrorists. We got one of our own back in exchange for 5 guys who haven't seen the light of day for a decade, and cannot even go "home" for a year. Look- we need the Taliban (the former Afghan government) to make peace with the current government if we have any hope of ending the LONGEST war in American history.

    Keep playing "what if" and maybe you can make the South win the Civil War or Mr. Romney President!

    June 8, 2014 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  22. Clem

    The 5 detainees will probably be absorbed into the existing terrorist population and will soon be forgotten. As for the soldiers allegedly killed as a result of the search and rescue efforts, are they the only casualties of war. Have we forgotten about the 4500 Americans killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq. Where is the outrage about going to war and creating all the senseless death and destruction. How can Bush and Cheney live with themselves.

    June 8, 2014 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  23. Anonymous

    John Kerry is probably the worst Sec of State than Hillary was. He is a functional idiot who sucks up to the odious POTUS, and alienates our allies with his stupid remarks. I hope before his term is over, that he sees some results from his gibberish. I say, turn Bibi on him!

    June 8, 2014 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  24. ekg

    RE: Works for me
    great post and it makes one wonder why any other country would ever allow something like a '1st amendment' to be included into their constitution.. while it's one of the many things that make us great, the fact that it also gives too many the right to lie,obfuscate and misdirect has now turned this country into a political mockery..

    RE dhh
    "Dick Cheney once described him as a coward, traitor and a terrorist"

    so Kerry leaves college,volunteers for war,fights honorably and is awarded a silver star,comes home and uses his 1st amendment right to speak out against what he's seen and the war he just left and that makes him a coward? a Traitor and a Terrorist? I guess he should have done what Cheney did and get multiple deferments and avoid the war altogether because that there is real courage... Maybe he should have lied to the American congress and public at large to get them into an unneeded war because that's a true patriot right there..and finally, Kerry should purposely hand out the names of all the CIA op's he's come into contact with, damaging their ability to fight terrorism, damaging their covers and the covers of who knows who many all because he doesn't like it when someone counters his (false) claims.. because that's not a form a terrorism, that's just good politics..*rollseyes*

    you're seriously taking Cheney's opinion as anything other than poop that it is? His entire political career has been nefarious enough to label him a coward, traitor and a terrorist..

    June 8, 2014 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  25. rs

    sandy
    What a disaster for Obama and everyone associated with him. LMAO. Cannot wait for November, let the shellacking begin!
    ___________
    The President's deal released 5 former members of the Afghan government. Mr. Bush released more than 500 prisoners from Gitmo (I'll spell that out for you: more than 100 TIMES as many)- many of whom did wind up on the battlefield again- so I am guessing you're way more likely to "shellack" the Republican if that's your measure, right?

    June 8, 2014 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
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