June 1st, 2014
10:01 AM ET
9 years ago

Susan Rice responds to political debate over negotiations for soldier's release

(CNN) – White House national security adviser Susan Rice defended the Obama administration's decision to exchange Guantanamo detainees for U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, amid criticism that the United States negotiated with terrorists in the process.

She also said the “acute urgency” of Bergdahl’s health condition justified President Obama’s not notifying Congress beforehand that Bergdahl was being swapped for five Taliban detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

"What we did was ensure that, as always, the United States doesn't leave a man or a woman on the battlefield," Rice said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."

"If we got into a situation where we said, 'Because of who has captured an American soldier on the battlefield we will leave that person behind,' we would be in a whole new ear for the safety of our personnel and for the nature of our commitment to our men and women in uniform," she continued. "Because it was the Taliban that had him did not mean that we had any less of an obligation to bring him back."

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Bergdahl, who was held for five years by Afghan militants, arrived Sunday morning at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany as part of his return to the United States.

Hagel: U.S. acted fast to save Bowe Bergdahl's life

U.S. special operations forces recovered Bergdahl without incident early Saturday local time at a pickup point in eastern Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan. American officials said the government of Qatar brokered the deal.

Multiple Republican members of Congress expressed joy at the return of Bergdahl, but deep concern about what it meant for U.S. service members' safety and the country's policy of not negotiating with terrorists.

"These particular individuals are hardened terrorists who have the blood of Americans and countless Afghans on their hands," Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said in a statement. He added that he's "eager to learn" what steps are being taken to ensure that these "violent Taliban extremists" won't cause any harm to the United States in the future.

CNN learned that the detainees will be under a travel ban for one year, and Rice added that "there are restrictions on their movement and behavior" in Qatar, but said she was not at liberty to go into further detail.

"Suffice it to say that we are satisfied that it substantially mitigates the risk to the United States and to our national security, and we feel confident that the assurances given to us will be upheld," she told CNN's chief political correspondent Candy Crowley.

Some critics were perturbed by the lack of communication with Congress about the negotiations. The Obama administration is required by law to notify Congress 30 days before any terrorists are transferred from Guantanamo Bay.

Rice said the administration began telling members of Congress once Bergdahl had been recovered and before the prisoners left the Guantanamo Bay facility.

"This was held closely within the administration. We could not take any risk with ... losing the opportunity to bring him back safely," she said, adding the Department of Defense had consulted with the Department of Justice before making the decision.

“Given the acute urgency of the health condition of Sgt. Bergdahl, and given the President’s constitutional responsibilities, it was determined that it was necessary and appropriate not to adhere to the 30-day notification requirement, because it would have potentially meant that the opportunity to get Sgt. Bergdahl would have been lost.”

Pressed further on concerns that the deal violated U.S. policy against negotiating with terrorists, Rice said Obama's hopes to close Guantanamo Bay will help prevent similar situations in the future.

"I think the terrorists are intent on doing what they're going to do, but … we have a commitment to close Guantanamo Bay," she said. "The existence of Guantanamo Bay is itself a detriment to our national security, which is why the President has prioritized closing it and why we intend to get that done."

CNN's Conor Finnegan and Ted Barrett contributed to this report.

Watch State of the Union with Candy Crowley Sundays at 9am ET. For the latest from State of the Union click here.

soundoff (78 Responses)
  1. Ian

    To all you President Obama defenders, I sincerely ask, aren't you just exhausted reconciling the reality of these disastrous decisions and horrible precedents with the image you have of a can-do-no-wrong Messiah?

    June 2, 2014 02:44 am at 2:44 am |
  2. quinLee

    Not that the left is anywhere near perfect BUT there is some serious, undeniable hate and ignorance on the right. Instead of celebrating getting one of own back they are doubling down on stupid.

    June 2, 2014 07:40 am at 7:40 am |
  3. Scott Downer

    This has to be the biggest blunder President and administration has done . Wonder if now kidnapping a soldier or any American citizen is going to be a new trend ? Wonder if Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl' knew he was being traded for killers that very well will kill again and it be more Americans and why he joined the Military ? I am glad for his parents but I think Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl' will pay the price of this for many years to come . I feel sorry for the many Soldiers And Policemen that have died knowing you don't negotiate with terrorists or Killers . This is a slap in the face for Many unsung hero's ..This is a new era and a weak future. I believe this will put more Americans at risk in the U.S as well as International .. And given them money as part of the Deal really is a gut check to our Vets and soldiers !

    June 2, 2014 07:49 am at 7:49 am |
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