In an interview that aired Sunday on CNN, Secretary of State John Kerry defended the transfer of five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in exchange for U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, but even a leading Democratic senator raised questions about the administration’s handling of the case.
Nearly five years after he disappeared in Afghanistan, Bergdahl has ignited a political controversy, with some members of Congress in an uproar over the terms of his release by the Taliban and the secrecy surrounding it.
We’ll get you up to speed on the latest in Washington with a roundup of all things political:
Kerry responds: In an interview with CNN’s Elise Labott from a seaside French village near Normandy, Kerry stood by the release of the five members of the Taliban, which some lawmakers say puts Americans overseas at risk and legitimizes the group.
Kerry said the United States has received assurances that the released detainees, who are staying in Qatar and have been given a one-year travel ban, will be closely monitored.
The United States will have the “ability to be able to do things” to ensure the former Guantanamo Bay prisoners are kept at bay, said Kerry, not elaborating on what those options may be.
But his assurances weren’t enough to placate senior members of the House and Senate intelligence committees.
Lawmakers appear doubtful: “We’ll see” was Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s skeptical response to Kerry on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.”
“You can’t help but worry about them in Doha,” said the California Democrat, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Kerry insisted that the United States would act if the freed Taliban members attempted to endanger American lives.
“I’m not telling you that they don’t have some ability at some point to go back and get involved (in fighting), but they also have an ability to get killed doing that,” he said, adding that the former detainees put themselves at “enormous risk” should they rejoin the battlefield.
When asked if the United States would kill them, Kerry deflected, saying simply, “No one should doubt the capacity of America to protect Americans.”
McCain: ‘At what cost:’ Sen. John McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, agreed the United States has an “obligation” to bring captured soldiers home. “But the question is at what cost,” the Arizona Republican said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
McCain said the Obama administration should have released different detainees.
“What we’re doing here is reconstituting the Taliban government, the same guys that are mass murderers,” he said.
Feinstein said she is also worried about the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, especially as the U.S. presence winds down and the country undergoes a transfer of power with President Hamid Karzai stepping down.
“Some of us worry very much that when we pull out, the Taliban finds its way back into power, and that would be tragic,” she said.
Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said that after the one-year travel ban expires for former detainees, he is “absolutely convinced” that at least four of the five Taliban will “join the fight against what Americans are left in Afghanistan.”
Kerry dismissed that concern, saying that the U.S. combat mission is coming to an end and pronouncements by the Taliban vowing to rejoin the fight are nothing but “propaganda.”
But Rogers said that “hostilities haven’t stopped.”
“This was the wrong message at the wrong time, and we are going to pay for this decision for years,” the Alabama Republican said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Left in the dark?: Some lawmakers are miffed that they weren’t consulted or notified about the prisoner exchange. Legislators from both parties accuse the administration of failing to provide 30 days' advance notice to Congress of a transfer of Guantanamo detainees.
In response to Kerry’s remarks that the released detainees will be monitored, Feinstein said, “It’s hard to be comfortable when you really haven’t been briefed on the intricacies of carrying out this agreement.”
“I think this whole sort of deal has been one that the administration has kept very close, and in the eyes of many of us, too close,” she said.
The administration originally said time was of the essence with Bergdahl’s health quickly deteriorating, but the latest reason for sidestepping Congress is concern that details would be leaked.
Also on “Face the Nation,” Sen. Saxby Chambliss, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called the administration’s fear of leaks odd. He said he and Feinstein were briefed for months about the mission on Osama bin Laden.
“Those types of things are briefed to us on a regular basis,” said Chambliss, a Georgia Republican.
“This administration has acted very strangely about this,” he said.
Also Sunday, Rogers pointed to Hillary Clinton, citing her briefing to Congress in 2011 about a possible prisoner swap on Bergdahl: “The Secretary of State at that time, Hillary Clinton, said that if all of our conditions aren't met, then none of them will be met.”
“We got none of that,” Rogers said.
Clinton's hard choice: Meanwhile, Clinton’s book “Hard Choices” is officially set to be released this week - even though some members of the media have already obtained copies – and she has begun a round of interviews in which she will inevitably face questions about whether she has made up her mind about a presidential run in 2016.
ABC’s Diane Sawyer asked Clinton several different ways if she will jump in the race.
“I’m going to decide when it feels right for me to decide,” Clinton said in an excerpt that aired on ABC’s “This Week.”
“I just want to kind of get through this year, travel around the country, sign books, help in the midterm elections in the fall and then take a deep breath and kind of go through my pluses and minuses about what I will and will not be thinking about as I make the decision,” Clinton said.
Republicans have raised questions about Clinton’s health and age should she be a presidential candidate.
Clinton called her concussion in late 2012 “serious” but insists she is in good health and would release her medical records as “other candidates have done” should she chose to run in 2016.
Clinton was noncommittal about appearing before a special House committee on the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, if she asked, saying it depends on “how they conduct themselves.”
CNN’s Jason Seher contributed to this report.