Bob Gates was ‘very uncomfortable’ with prisoner swap idea in 2011
June 5th, 2014
01:15 PM ET
7 years ago

Bob Gates was ‘very uncomfortable’ with prisoner swap idea in 2011

(CNN) – Then-Secretary of Defense Bob Gates was “very uncomfortable” with the idea of a Guantanamo prisoner swap for Bowe Bergdahl when it was raised in 2011, a former senior Defense Department official familiar with Gates’ thinking told CNN.

The “fundamental discussion,” the source said, “was over the notion of negotiating with terrorists and hostage takers.” It was a position, the source confirmed, that was shared by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then-CIA Director Leon Panetta-a powerful triumvirate.

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Gates’ view, the source said, was that “the only way you negotiate is out of a position of strength.” The source would not specifically elaborate on Gates’ view of the deal that was ultimately struck, but the history of his thinking as being “uncomfortable” with such negotiations is a clear indication.

The source added that back then, in mid-2011, “it wasn’t a really serious conversation.” It had come up more in the context of a Gitmo closure strategy, he said.

Gates left his position in July 2011.

Wednesday, in a speech in Pittsburgh, Leon Panetta, who succeeded Gates as Defense Secretary, gave a similar version of events. According to the Pittsburgh Tribune, Panetta told his audience “I don't fault the administration for wanting to get him back. I do question whether the conditions are in place to make sure these terrorists don't go back into battle.”

He went on to confirm that he had opposed a swap when he was defense secretary because the Taliban asked for “five top guys.”

The former senior Defense Department official also confirmed that the thinking of Panetta and Gates was shared by Clinton. There seemed to be an assumption that it would not happen. But since all three have left, the source said, he could not comment on the circumstances of the recent decision to make the swap.

What’s changed, of course, is the decision to draw down U.S. troops in Afghanistan to 9,800 beginning next year and withdraw almost all troops by the end of 2016. The announcement on transitioning out of Afghanistan–and the swap for Bergdahl–were just five days apart.

Filed under: Afghanistan • Leon Panetta • Robert Gates
soundoff (38 Responses)
  1. Rudy NYC

    Sen. McCain told AC360 this past February that he was comfortable with swapping the top Taliban leaders for Bergdahl.

    June 5, 2014 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  2. Gurgyl

    –so you want a soldier die? Nonsense. This is GOP trash, stop this nonsense–world is laughing with other end. Pres. Obama is CIC, did good job on this. GOP lost this trick too. You rather feed those five guys than bring American soldier back home. Do you know you are feeding at tax payer expense. Enough of this idiocy, bs. Hillary16. Period.
    PS: if you are smart, why didn't you catch Bin Laden?

    June 5, 2014 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  3. Lynda/Minnesota

    Ah, yes.




    And the list goes on and on. For 13 years and counting.

    Poor Frank Luntz. All his words with little meaning coming home to roost.

    June 5, 2014 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  4. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    Mr. Gates served under President Bush, the most ignorant and deceitful President since Warren Harding, He didn't see fit to criticize him then, or now. For some reason, he can't keep his mouth shut when it comes to anything President Obama does. Double standard?

    June 5, 2014 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  5. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA - Take Back the House

    WE LEAVE NO MAN BEHIND!!!! Regardless if he's a deserter or not, We'll bring him home, court martial him, and dishonorably discharge him. But it will be done on AMERICAN SOIL. I'm not worried about the prisoner swap. They probably all have RFID chips in them.

    June 5, 2014 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  6. They ought to change from the elephant to the hippo...

    We can only hope, Dutch.... With the drone hovering...

    June 5, 2014 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  7. drake mallard

    As the right-wing echo chamber ramps up about how horrible it is that five Guantanamo Bay detainees have been freed, let’s remember that 520 Gitmo detainees were released under George W. Bush.

    June 5, 2014 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  8. TONE

    Right about now racism is the gop platform for Nov because they have nothing else.

    June 5, 2014 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  9. Dead Bear

    I'm also against giving the Taliban the 5 prisoners they wanted... We should have given them Rubio, Cruz, Palin, Paul, and Rove in order to keep America safe from terrorists.

    June 5, 2014 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  10. Rick McDaniel

    Of course he was. This is one man who had some integrity.........something very lacking among Democrats.

    June 5, 2014 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  11. drake mallard

    to GOPeepee

    What about the Taliban in Afghanistan? We have negotiated in the past with them, and we will do it in the future. We will do it whether a Republican or a Democrat occupies the White House. Why? Because once you acknowledge (as we have) that you cannot win a war militarily, there are only two other ways to end it: surrender or negotiate with your enemy. The United States might be capable of winning the war in Afghanistan militarily, but the sacrifice and cost in civilian lives would be too unpalatable to contemplate. This was the conclusion reached by civilian and military leaders years ago.

    What's the alternative? Republicans? The party that wants our POW's to be tortured?

    June 5, 2014 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  12. johnny

    Whatever president Obama does, never satisfied GOP. This is American solider, he may be deserter, but he needs to come home. If GOP has problem with him, then they can try him.

    June 5, 2014 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  13. The Elephant in the Room

    We have 1 President at a time and it has NEVER been Bob Gates or Hillary Clinton, so his concerns are irrelevant as far as public discourse involving the media or public opinion are concerned. That is the defference that any executive leader is OWED by anyone who understands organizational structure or who has any knowledge and/or respect for what it means to be the TOP GUY.
    Gates input was very relevant when he was part of Team Obama and I`m sure the President gave it great weight before making the Chief Executive decision that was his, ALONE, to make.

    June 5, 2014 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  14. Charlie

    Of course, in 2011, they weren't on the verge of releasing the detainees anyway.

    June 5, 2014 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  15. Fair is Fair

    Rudy NYC

    Sen. McCain told AC360 this past February that he was comfortable with swapping the top Taliban leaders for Bergdahl.
    Psssssst... IF Obama had followed the LAW and involved congress of his intentions, Sen. McCain could have made his stance known. Stop the deflection.

    June 5, 2014 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  16. Your comment is awaiting deletion if it doesn't support Obama

    Only the die hard Obama koolaide drinkers are defending him on this one. A two year old could have negotiated a better deal than this. I think Obama would have agreed to empty out Gitmo if he thought he could get away with it.

    June 5, 2014 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |

    POTUS McKinley (R) – negotiated POW release with Spain
    GOP reaction = Brilliant Leadership

    POTUS T Roosevelt (R) – Negotiated amnesty for Filipino insurgents
    GOP reaction = Brilliant Leadership

    POTUS Eisenhower (R) – Negotiates POW release (including deserters) with NKorean communists
    GOP reaction = Brilliant Leadership

    POTUS Ford (R) – Negotiates prisoner release with NKorea
    GOP reaction = Brilliant Leadership

    POTUS Nixon (R) – Negotiates POW release (including deserters) with Viet Cong
    GOP reaction = Brilliant Leadership

    POTUS Reagan (R) – Negotiates hostage release with Iranian terrorists, POW release with Syrian terrorists, mercenary release with Nicaraguan communists
    GOP reaction = Brilliant Leadership

    POTUS Bush I (R) – Negotiates POW release with Saddam Hussein
    GOP reaction = Brilliant Leadership

    POTUS Obama (D) – Negotiates POW release with Afghan insurgents
    GOP reaction = Unprecedented! Illegal! Impeachable! Treasonous! Imperial Presidency! BENNNNNNNNNNGHAAAAAZIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII!!!!!

    June 5, 2014 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  18. Silence DoGood

    Maybe Obama should have traded weapons for hostages like conservative patron saint Reagan did to Iran.
    Oh sorry – the myth is that we never negotiate with terrorists. My bad.
    And for those Benghazists out there – Reagan also left Marines with unloaded weapons resulting the deaths of over 200 Marines in Beirut by Hezbollah terrorists.

    How about we give Obama the same punishments Reagan got? That would be nothing.

    June 5, 2014 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |

    @Your comment is awaiting deletion if it doesn't support Obama
    Only the die hard Obama koolaide drinkers are defending him on this one. A two year old could have negotiated a better deal than this. I think Obama would have agreed to empty out Gitmo if he thought he could get away with it.

    June 5, 2014 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
    Oh really? Then why don't you run for POTUS and impress us, for, your puerile post certainly does not.

    June 5, 2014 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  20. Ol' Yeller

    Well an unidentified source who was "very familiar" with the way ted cruz thinks, stated had ted been president at this time, he would have likely blamed this all on the Dems, or Obama, or even his fellow republicants to get the spotlight off of him. The source confirmed that most republicants would have 'done the same', adding the following caveat... "Should any republicant ever make any statement about anything, it is wisest to catch them saying it directly and clearly into a camera". The source went on to say... this in no way means they will accept responsibility in the end or even slow down the drum beat of the conversatives consistent and long standing record of being wrong on almost every issue ever brought forward by mankind... but it makes it easier to point and laugh at them later.
    This whole article was nonsense.... CNN is becoming less like a news organization and more like a tabloid. Unnamed sourse 'close to' whoever.... what a crock.

    June 5, 2014 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  21. drake mallard

    the gop forgot about when Ronald Reagan was President, and of course he’s the icon of the Republican Party. If you recall our marine barracks in Lebanon was attacked and over 200 marines were killed.Did Ronald Reagan go to war? No, he got the heck out of there.

    Shortly after the barracks bombing, President Ronald Reagan appointed a military fact-finding committee headed by retired Admiral Robert L. J. Long to investigate the bombing. The commission's report found senior military officials responsible for security lapses and blamed the military chain of command for the disaster. It suggested that there might have been many fewer deaths if the barracks guards had carried loaded weapons and a barrier more substantial than the barbed wire the bomber drove over easily. The commission also noted that the "prevalent view" among U.S. commanders was that there was a direct link between the navy shelling of the Muslims at Suq-al-Garb and the truck bomb attack.

    June 5, 2014 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  22. Smitty

    Obumbles isn't nor never was up for the job, we need a pres not a celeb. It was clear from day 1 FAILURE ALL FRONTS. Way to go Bamby !!!

    June 5, 2014 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  23. T-Rex

    Thanks for the reminder Silence DoGood when u mentioned Bengazi. The POTUS and Secretary of Sate were all for getting Americans home safely when they were asked by the US ambassador for reinforcements and/or extraction. So, those 4 Americans were slaughtered. NOT a big deal b/c it was over a film and NOT a terrorist act. Don't u love it when someone other than yourself determines whether u live or die? U gotta love the way the president is CHANGING this country – divide and conquer!! Soon, the subject of sucession will become a hot subject.

    June 5, 2014 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  24. Sniffit

    Nice synopsis Southern Hottie...kudos!

    Now, let's play "one of these things is not like the other" with the POTUSes in your list.....anyone wanna guess which one is different and what that difference is?

    June 5, 2014 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  25. T-Rex

    The subject of CESSION will become a HOT subject.

    June 5, 2014 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
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