June 8th, 2014
10:19 AM ET
7 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. sam

    Of course he's going to defend the swap. Even if he has his own opinion, he has no choice. Obama is looking pretty bad already, he doesn't need any more help from Kerry.

    June 8, 2014 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  2. ThinkAgain - Don't like Congress? Get rid of the repub/tea bag majority.

    @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"

    The Rose Garden announcement was hardly "spiking the football." Carney had decided to leave months before.

    Your inability to turn off fox and think for yourself is typical of the ignorant, hateful right these days.

    Yes, just let that one digest.

    June 8, 2014 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  3. rker321

    We are all forgetting a very important fact. The war in Afghanistan is ending. Those men would have to go free once that war is finished. They haven't been charge with anything.
    Now, I am sure that once the new government arrives and starts functioning, and Americans are out by 2016 a coalition type of Government will emerge and the Taliban will be part of that Government.
    There is nothing we will be able to do about that.
    Remember the Taliban is not Al Queda. the Taliban was the government existing in Afghanistan before we invaded and deposed that government.
    Yes, they have had ties with Al Queda. and yes they could present a problem later on.

    June 8, 2014 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  4. I shat u not

    Black man can do no white. Even if Obama found the cure for cancer, GOP will still want a congressional hearing and impeach him.

    June 8, 2014 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  5. Kebos

    Kerry says: "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."

    Kerry ... so do our US military fighting them! You goofball!

    June 8, 2014 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  6. DH

    Had Cheney and bush not lied to drag us into these wars in the first place, 5,000 would not have died and this solider and the ones who served with him and may have died looking for Him WOULD NOT EVEN BE an ISSUE.

    June 8, 2014 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  7. Kebos

    Does the US have the ability to cast a non-confidence vote in this administration? If so, now is the time!

    June 8, 2014 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  8. ThinkAgain - Don't like Congress? Get rid of the repub/tea bag majority.

    @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."

    The spirit of the law was to keep the President from emptying Guantanamo. Regarding the investigation you cite, this from the Army Times: “We have no indication that he intended to leave permanently,” one government official familiar with the investigation told Military Times. However, the official noted, the investigation did not have potentially critical input from Sgt. Bergdahl himself.

    Bergdahl was AWOL; he didn't desert. And, the investigation is NOT complete, because Bergdahl has not yet been questioned.

    I agree with you that the attacks on the family are idiotic; but that's the righties in a nutshell. They are willing to do ANYTHING to our country in their efforts to regain control – so they can take us back to tanking the world economy, high unemployment, 41 million uninsured, tax cuts for the wealthy which doesn't result in job creation, an unfunded war or two, and the elimination of the middle class. Throw in open carry anywhere, anytime and a hateful "christian" theocracy, and you've described the gop/tea bag wet dream.

    June 8, 2014 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  9. NameFrank Deery

    The 70's are over Kerry, Jane Fonda, and Obama! No draftees, just valiant volunteers, risking their lives against foes far more dangerous and insidious than the Viet-Cong.
    Bergdahl might have gotten away with deserting then, but not today-especially considering we traded him for five of the Taliban's worst honchoes.

    Obama, as President, one without much experience, military or in governing, has spinned this numerous times in a week, but
    His Chicago pol training paid off: the VA mess is forgotten in the media. That was his
    objective.

    June 8, 2014 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  10. kinainabudhabi

    Of course Mr. Kerry would defend Obama's decision. They probably made it together. What I think doesn't bother them either, is that because of some of their decisions and their inability to be honest with the American people, many of us no longer believe what they say. It is almost pointless to interview them anymore. One lady that definitely should stop giving interviews is Susan Rice.

    June 8, 2014 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  11. Randall

    Since when did the Taliban become terrorists? Have we now decided that all Muslims are terrorists? If so then how do all of you justify purchasing oil for your gas guzzlers from Saudia Arabia and other countries with Muslim leaders?
    I think some of you are confusing Taliban with Al Qaeda. Here are some facts for those who forgot:

    1. All of the terror bombings and 9/11 done against the US by foreigners have been done by Al Qaeda. I do not know of a single example otherwise.
    2. Taliban has never organized a terrorist attack on Americans. I don't count what has been done to US soldiers in Afghanistan as terror attacks. That is war.
    3. Yes Taliban allowed Al Qaeda to operate out of Afghanistan for money and because their culture required them to accept fellow Muslims. But again, that does not make them terrorists.

    I have noticed that a LOT of American posters on these boards are VERY IRRESPONSIBLE with the use of language and words, calling people names or assigning labels that don't fit. Some of you need to look up certain words such as "terrorists", "socialist", "liberal", "conservative", etc. before using them over and over again. It may be fun to flame somebody with an insult while hiding behind a computer monitor but you are dishonoring yourself also.

    June 8, 2014 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  12. manhandler1

    I see the right wing rabies spreaders are here in droves spreading their disease all around, thinking that anyone takes them seriously but their pathetic selves.

    June 8, 2014 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  13. They ought to change from the elephant to the hippo...

    dhh

    So you're SOMEHOW willing to take the word of chicken hawk Cheney over soemone who actually DID serve in Viet Nam? Who's REALLY the coward?!?!

    June 8, 2014 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  14. rs

    Nothing to defend. We bring home one of our own from 5 years as a POW. Is he guilty of something? Perhaps, let nature run its course.

    Meanwhile, the process is done, Congress was well aware of this swap in advance- and McCain approved of it in March (it was in the news).

    If the GOP wants to crank up their Rovian drama machine so be it- but until they work with FACTS, every single Democrat, and every veteran, and every member of the media needs to call them on it for each and every lie they put out about the deal, the 5 former Afghan government employees, Mr. Bergdahl (and his family), and the end of this war.

    June 8, 2014 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  15. Chris

    Six Degrees,
    John Kerry was probably out on his yacht....but he is just speaking now because our administration is grasping at any straw trying to make this look better.

    June 8, 2014 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  16. Lisa Nicol

    President Obama did the right thing by helping to release Bowe Bergdahl. I can not imagine how badly Bowe's family must feel with all the criticism and negative reaction to his release. Let this poor young man and his family heal. He has been through a tremendous ordeal-whether or not he deserted. I choose to believe he is innocent before declaring his guilt. Let us not cast the "first stone" and please give this family some privacy. Just try to imagine if this was happening to one of your loved ones. Both my father and husband served in the military.

    June 8, 2014 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  17. Gunderson

    Humm,
    Kerry defending this swap is like democrat liberal's defending raising the national debt. "We know we need to balance the national budget but we can't do it just now". Try it a hundred years from now, maybe we can do it then. WHAT A TANGLED WEB WE WEAVE, WHEN FIRST WE PRACTICE TO DECEIVE.

    June 8, 2014 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  18. ThinkAgain - Don't like Congress? Get rid of the repub/tea bag majority.

    fox is lying, as usual. It has been characterizing the 5 prisoners released from Guantanamo as militant extremist Taliban fighters" – and that's total bull. ALL but one were civilians, some local administrators and one police official, and ALL of those are moderates.

    One was a military fighter – and an extremist – but he is pretty old and not expected to be of much if any use as a fighter, since he's been out of it for many years now.

    But, hey, these pesky little facts won't keep fox from fanning the flames on the right ... pathetic!

    June 8, 2014 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  19. They ought to change from the elephant to the hippo...

    Amazing how these Republicans act like they've never heard of a signing statement, after all the ones that Bush used... Convenient memories...

    June 8, 2014 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  20. timothy f cronin

    g w bush released a lot more "terrorists" than Obama has. what did we get from bush release of prisoners.???I did not hear any uproar over bush releasing these people.we are obligated to get our people back and we have a system to investigate and punish our members of armed forces if they are found guilty. I say we let the system work as designed.

    June 8, 2014 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  21. ThinkAgain - Don't like Congress? Get rid of the repub/tea bag majority.

    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.

    The investigation that all the RWNJs like to cite – which concluded that it was not complete, having no input from Bergdahl himself – also concluded that Bergdahl's platoon suffered from lapses in discipline and security in the period before Bergdahl went AWOL.

    I'm thinking the yahoos from Bergdahl's platoon are simply continuing to reveal their lack of character and are trying to cash in on their unexpected notoriety.

    June 8, 2014 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  22. Thomas

    Only in America !

    Do we not welcome the last man being held captive in a war that went on ten years to long . And threaten his parents , condemn him without do proses ,

    We have become a divided , vigilante , bully state influenced by talk show hosts whom avoided military service .

    It's always easier to blame the weak and not hold those truly responsible .

    June 8, 2014 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  23. don in albuquerque

    I realize the GOTP has successfully made the "hideous, deplorable, monstrous, vampirish, baby eating, five detainees" the bogey man of all time, but can you tell me what crimes they were convicted of, or what outstanding charges were filed against them? No? Kinda makes you wonder just who the "terrorist" is here. I realize they don't take a pretty picture, but just what exactly did they do to earn such infamy? Imagination is not acceptable here, nor is crystal balling, cold hard facts only. Just because the W administrations says so will not hold you in too good a stead either.

    June 8, 2014 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  24. Blake

    I wouldn't have believed 3 weeks ago that people in the US could stoop so low, that not only would they judge/attack this soldier oversees before he's even out to defend himself, but would go after the family as well. I also wouldn't have believed that there would be so little pushback by people who are supposed to pride themselves on reporting/waiting for the facts, being the news media.

    That women in the clip sounded like she wasn't even listening to what he was saying and her tone was like a hysterical person. Here's the facts as we know them:

    – He asked his superior officer if he were to go off base, would he get in trouble bringing his equipment? Tell me which deserters you know of are worried about getting in trouble about taking equipment off base when desertion is 10x worse?
    – He had been off base before, he came back before.
    – Many who served with him accuse him of being a deserter and getting 6 (or is it 8 now?) soldiers killed looking for him.
    – Further investigations into these deaths by news media showed not one of them died or were reported killed looking for Bergdhal months after and over many months after that.
    – Two died in Feb 09 supporting Afghan Presidential election security in a roadside bomb/ambush (I guess he could have been in a polling station). Sad thing is these are the least likely ones caused by searching for Bergdhal, but Bowan's mother now believes her son was killed "looking for a traitor" due to media reports.
    – Another died in a firefight supporting Afghan forces (not exactly a search and rescue mission) in Aug 09. From her comments it seems she thought he died looking for him too, but factually her son was supporting Afghan troops when he died, not looking for anyone.
    – Three others died in different roadside bomb attacks months apart in different provinces.
    – Intelligence and the Administration has know where Bergdhal is for years. It's possible this wasn't known in 09 when most of the above soldiers died, but looking for Bergdhal was not a primary mission nor even evidenced at all in every death.
    – The DoD cannot find any evidence or commands to find Bergdhal that would suggest they died because of him.
    – The 5 Taliban have been held 12 years since they were government officials when Afghanistan was officially ruled by the Taliban. They primarily would be used by the Taliban to raise money as "Gitmo"
    – Although some of them are really bad guys, they never came up for trial.
    – Hundreds, if not thousands like them in leadership roles in the Taliban have been taken out by Drones, not to mention every AQ leader except OBL's second from post/pre 9/11. It could be argued we saved these 5 Taliban by keeping them in Gitmo.
    – They are being watched by Qatar and as Kerry put it "others" (CIA, etc etc etc.). These guys already have pet drones I bet.

    Based on that I think a lot of this is hysteria in and caused by the media. I have to ask those serving with Bergdhal how do they have the confidence to go on national TV and say he's responsible for the deaths listed above? It's almost as if they're purposely blaming him for everything under the sun because they think he deserted and/or because (based off the tone in one interview) he somehow orchestrated the attacks. How would they know and if it's not one of those things, do they have ulterior motives we don't know about? The worst part is because they are soldiers many, including some of the parents of those died, are now believing their unproven and very unlikely stories of why they died. That is very sad is an almost disgusting way and cruel to those parents if Bergdahl search had nothing to do with their deaths.

    June 8, 2014 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  25. Anonymous

    "Let this poor young man and his family heal."

    He and his family are receiving death threats. Heal? I don't see that happening anytime soon. FOX and Friends have decided that the entire F*Up that is the war in Afghanistan is a direct result of this man and his family, and they alone are being called upon to shoulder all blame.

    June 8, 2014 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
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