Hillary Clinton downplays controversy around Bergdahl's release
June 3rd, 2014
02:14 AM ET
9 years ago

Hillary Clinton downplays controversy around Bergdahl's release

(CNN) – Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday called the United States' "tradition" of not leaving soldiers in captivity a "noble" one in what amounted to a measured defense of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's controversial release.

Clinton was headlining an event in suburban Denver when she was asked whether she would have traded five terrorists for Bergdahl, the American soldier whose release in Afghanistan after five years of captivity has sparked controversy.

She downplayed the criticism surrounding his release and noted some of the benefits his expected return brings the United States.

"We do have a tradition and I ascribe to it," Clinton said. "We try not to leave any of our soldiers on the field. We try to make sure, insofar as possible, you know, we bring them home."

She continued: "This young man, whatever the circumstances, is an American citizens and was serving in our military."

The reason Bergdahl's release has become contentious is two-fold.

Some eyewitnesses say Bergdahl deserted his platoon on the day he went missing in 2009, leaving the safety of his base without a weapon. His friends, however, describe him as a trustworthy and outgoing world traveler who joined the Army in 2008 and U.S. officials aren't directly calling Bergdahl a deserter.

The terms of his release have also drawn criticism, largely because Bergdahl was traded for five terrorists who were imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay. Some fear that the deal will encourage hostage-taking and open a new era in which the United States has to negotiate with terrorists. Others say the administration may have broken the law by failing to notify Congress that it was letting terror detainees free from the military prison.

Although Clinton did not state outright that she would have conducted the prisoner swap, saying she doesn’t believe in “second guessing people who have to make these hard choices," the former secretary of state did put the controversy around the trade in context by noting some previous exchanges.

"A lot of our closest allies do prisoner exchanges to get our POWs back all the time," Clinton said, highlighting the 2011 trade between Israel and Palestine that saw Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit swapped for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.

Clinton went on to say that "the important issue now" is to get Bergdahl healthy and "get as much information out of him as possible."

"That, I think, is valuable in and of itself," Clinton said of the information Bergdahl might have. "As we are drawing down our troops and ending the longest military engagement in combat in American history … we need as much intelligence as we can get about what is happening inside the Taliban."

Much of Clinton's appearance, which lasted more than an hour, did not focus on current events, however.

The former first lady who is widely considered the Democratic Party's frontrunner for the presidential nomination in 2016 spoke at length about women's issues, her time as secretary of state and her upcoming memoir, "Hard Choices," to the audience in Broomfield, Colorado.

While Clinton avoided a coy question from the event's moderator about whether she was entering the presidential race, the former senator did talk about what it takes to run for the White House.

"I think the most important questions are not will you run or can you win, I think the important questions are what is your vision for America and can you lead us there," Clinton said to a sustained applause. She later added that being president is "as much a job as it is a mission."

And Clinton also seemed to take on some recent Republican critiques of her health when she told the audience that while running for president is exhausting, she "luckily" has "a lot of resilience and a lot of stamina."

Clinton also closed her speech with an impassioned pitch that she has not used at many of her other events over the past four months.

"Please join me in making some hard choices for America," Clinton said as the supportive crowd roared.

This was not the first event in Denver that felt like a campaign stop, either. Earlier on Monday, Clinton appeared at a local plastics factory, where she toured the facility, held a roundtable on youth employment and gave brief remarks.

"Everything that would solve the problems is being done somewhere," Clinton said of the United States. "This internship program that I learned about here, it’s a great program. Just think if it were multiple times over."

After her remarks, Clinton stepped off the stage and said, "Let me shake a few more hands."

– CNN's Michael Pearson contributed to this report.

soundoff (23 Responses)
  1. king

    These repubs and their absolutist ideologies. When will they learn that compromise is not such of a bad word, or will they keep on putting crazy sounding words together like bargaining with terrorist to scare the badoozle out of our already scary people. Calling the talaban terrorist is like calling bush a peacekeeper. Who went into who's country and terrorized who with bombs and bullets. Was every talaban involved in 9/11 or was their a single talaban involved. The bottom line iwas Afghanistan was a sovereign nation, no matter what or how they govern their people. When I hear the repubs calling the
    talaban prisoners terrorist for fighting against american invasion I shake my head
    prisoners at

    June 3, 2014 03:28 am at 3:28 am |
  2. Miami Mike

    “We do have a tradition and I ascribe to it,” Clinton said. “We try not to leave any of our soldiers on the field. -Hillary Clinton

    Yeah... Tell that to the parents if the US Navy Seals that died protecting a US Ambassador.

    Tell that to the parents of the US Marine imprisoned in Mexico,
    All talk... No action...

    June 3, 2014 05:14 am at 5:14 am |
  3. Food Historian

    Let me get this straight: Six Soldiers died during the search for this guy and 5 dangerous terrorists are now free,: So what's so "noble" about this? Furthermore, how will this exchange make US citizens feel about risking travel overseas?? I'd sure think twice.

    June 3, 2014 06:20 am at 6:20 am |
  4. J.V.Hodgson

    The title of this article says it all.
    We are not having a debate or rational discussion we are in a "controversy" already.
    What were the alternatives
    1) Leave him there forever or maybe be beheaded tomorrow.
    2) He is an infidel and unbeliever, ending his life is good under Islamic and sharia law.
    3) Jihad is justifiable against ANY AND ALL AMERICANS IN DEFENSE OF THE FAITH.

    June 3, 2014 06:39 am at 6:39 am |
  5. Ali

    It is only controversy in the eyes of desperate Republicans..Obama brought an American Soldier home. That's all there's to it. They are running out of ideas to attack on the President, Welcome home soldier!!

    June 3, 2014 06:41 am at 6:41 am |
  6. Gurgyl

    -let me say directly to this big, well regulated, mostly honest nation–GOP only mission is to loot and send you to Wars and make money out of poor and sell to Koch, Sheldon and make you the rest Gamble in Las Vegas–sell Guns and kill. This is the mission for these republican trash. Yes, pres. Obama is right–we need Education, infrastructure, green-energy and Gun-Control. True, god bless!!!!

    June 3, 2014 07:01 am at 7:01 am |
  7. jim

    This is a train wreck. Why did they announce it in the Rose Garden.

    June 3, 2014 07:06 am at 7:06 am |
  8. Rob

    Just another take on her famous "What difference does it make" statement about the murders in Benghazi. It seems more and more this guy was a deserter and a Traitor. His actions appears to have cause the deaths of 7 Loyal American soldiers. He should have been left to the people he CHOSE to be with. Now that he is here, if true, he should made to address these charges and if guilty, sent to prison

    June 3, 2014 07:08 am at 7:08 am |
  9. Stuffitu

    A hallmark of the corrupt, incompetent, inept administration- when you want to tell a big lie, send out Susan Rice.

    June 3, 2014 07:17 am at 7:17 am |
  10. Tampa Tim

    But Cliven Bundy supporter, Sean Hannity told his zombie followers that Bergdahl was a deserter. Who are they to believe?

    June 3, 2014 07:22 am at 7:22 am |
  11. Dean

    She would make a worse president than Obama (if that's even possible!).

    June 3, 2014 07:57 am at 7:57 am |
  12. Matt

    It was the same in Israel Gilad was seen as a burden a source of same by many why did he allow himself to be captured, why didn't he kill himself, let's leave him there. It will create deterrent. So we killed 1000 first, released 1000 it is the same 1000. No Shin Bet will do its thing, some re arrested, some killed during and the majority sent to Gaza from one prison to another open aired. That is why Netanyahu a hawk supported the swap. And in both cases no orange jumpsuits, uniforms treated as Pow. If either had been held not by Haqanni or Hamas but al-qaida central orange jumpsuits no trade and beheaded on you tube.

    June 3, 2014 07:57 am at 7:57 am |
  13. smith

    More evidence is coming out that Berdahl was a deserter who was disgruntled with his role in the military. Leaving no one behind applies to people who serve with duty and honor not a selfish deserter.

    June 3, 2014 08:03 am at 8:03 am |
  14. Rick McDaniel

    There is no justification for trading 5 dangerous Taliban prisoners, for one deserter.

    June 3, 2014 08:39 am at 8:39 am |
  15. Steve, New York City

    We're winding down Afghanistan, and we're winding down Guantanmo bay. The soldier's release is consistent with both objectives. Happy to see another American coming home. The question of whether he was a deserter is something for military intelligence to determine . . .and maybe this guy also has intel on Al Haqqani that can help us.
    On this one, I agree with Hillary.

    June 3, 2014 08:40 am at 8:40 am |
  16. Lynda/Minnesota

    We drop our young men into the middle of a battle zone and then mock and ridicule when these unfortunates snap under pressure? We laughing call him a deserter. We tell ourselves he's not worth "bringing" home because he didn't live up to our hero expectations. Oh, but hey. Dude deserved what he got: 5 years of Prisoner of War status. Let him rot in place. Or something.

    I've never been to war. I have no idea how I would handle seeing death and destruction 24/7. I have no comment on his mental status at the time. I don't know the person he was; nor what he has become.

    One thing I do know: I have no basis to judge him. Today ... tomorrow ... or ever. He did something I never did: he donned a United States military uniform and went to war on our behalf. Whether or not he lived up to our expectations of war will be his ordeal to sort out for the rest of his life. Whether or not the United States military lived up to their obligations (to him) through its chain of command is yet to be seen.

    He is no longer a P.O.W. In my book, that is good.

    June 3, 2014 08:47 am at 8:47 am |
  17. Arnold

    I hope those 5 terrorists were injected with the AIDS virus before they were handed over to the other terrorists.

    June 3, 2014 09:04 am at 9:04 am |
  18. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    Isn't he afforded due process under the law?? Whether he left his post or not, he's an American soldier, you know one of those the GOP plays lip service to.

    June 3, 2014 09:08 am at 9:08 am |
  19. salty dog

    Rob, Hillary said what difference does it make about them being dead? What are you talking about, she doesn't care?

    June 3, 2014 09:16 am at 9:16 am |
  20. salty dog

    Nice post Lynda, couldn't agree more.

    June 3, 2014 09:18 am at 9:18 am |
  21. Gunderson

    EH, Well, Peasant,
    Compromise? A bad thing? Ok. The Republicans have been compromising with the democrats the last 100 years. So far the only thing to come out of it is a 17.7 Trillion dollar debt and the 29 hour work week. How much more comprise do you want? The Liberal's want the money now off shore to be bought back so they can steal it. Who do you think is going to go along with that compromise??

    June 3, 2014 09:23 am at 9:23 am |
  22. tom l

    "Have a great summer (which is what I plan on doing, minus the political back and forth.) I'll still work the phone lines, and I'll still get out the vote ... but the freaking political bickering? I'm leaving it to tom I. It's not my cup of tea."

    I'm curious how you would like me to reply. Just last week you called me infantile for one of my posts. Out of nowhere and with no interaction, you make this comment and that's perfectly fine. I will take that as a compliment that you decided to single me out and take a shot at me. And for clarification purposes...I'm "bickering" but Rudy, Sniffit, rs, DMFO (I miss her), Marie and Tampa Tim are just making prudent, well thought out comments? Is that how it works?

    By the way, based on your comment here, you should refer to smith as he fought over in Iraq so you based on your comment you should value what he has to say.

    June 3, 2014 09:55 am at 9:55 am |
  23. Marcus (from...?)

    'Food Historian – Let me get this straight: Six Soldiers died during the search for this guy and 5 dangerous terrorists are now free,: So what's so "noble" about this? Furthermore, how will this exchange make US citizens feel about risking travel overseas?? I'd sure think twice.'

    Answer – Given the fact that it's not up to you to warn US nationals overseas about the safety conditions (or lack thereof) of being or not in this or that country, but the DOS' job to do so, your opinion on the subject should be based on something more than just fear, like facts.
    Yes they are out of GITMO.
    Yes they are dangerous.
    Yes they may or may not end up helping some terrorist activity.
    Just like all the guys out there that look at them and say 'Heroes!', 'Martyrs of the cause!' or whatever.
    So now they're out and a US soldier is back home and if, by any chance, all this talk about the guy being a deserter is true... then it's up to the USA to show him the error of his ways... and not the Taleban.

    June 3, 2014 10:00 am at 10:00 am |