June 8th, 2014
10:19 AM ET
9 years 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."

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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. Works for me

    Kudos to our media for creating an atmosphere of malfeasence garnered to attract public attention without facts. That this absolutely feeds into the worst common denominator of society as well as gives our "enemies" untold joy is without question the lowest low media can achieve. I (along with CNN) welcome ALL FOX folks willing to go the extra mile to promote lies, innuendo, and hate-filled rants. It adds nothing to the conversation, detracts from the truth, and causes continued laughter against America throughout the world. We deserve each and every criticism directed at us worldwide for allowing ourselves to become the brunt of their joke. That so many of us are willing to accept this garbage directed at us by a media that has been playing on us for decades is an statement to our own lack of curiosity and intellectual laziness. To allow the media to lower its standards to a level of incompetence they should be cringing at, not primping in, is our own fault. Our American media and its people deserve one another.

    June 8, 2014 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  2. dhh

    With all the controversies surrounding this administration, they are desperate to make the president look good, so this was a political move during an election cycle so that Obama could be seen as keeping his promise to close Guantanamo.

    As far as Kerry is concerned, Dick Cheney once described him as a coward, traitor and a terrorist. Now I'm no fan of Cheney, but I have to agree with him here at least in part – Kerry is a tool, defending an administration that has become almost indefensible.

    June 8, 2014 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  3. smith1

    Kerry knows all about the comments made about Bergdahl and the exchange of prisoners. I guess the GOP has no faith in this administration to keep us safe. . Make up their minds we are or we aren't the greatest country. What suggestions have they made as to what they would have done???

    June 8, 2014 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  4. king

    I wonder how it feels to be a united states soldier right now. Now when you go fighting for these folks you have no chances of coming home if you are captured. Your moral must be sky high righ now if you where the uniform. These repubs urge to politicize every single thing this president dose has sent our nation morals into a tailspin. I wonder if folks like John mccain was hoping that the united states wouldn't negotiate with terrorist while he was locked up in some dungeon somewhere few knows about. These repubs have been predicting doom and gloom for the past six years yet every prediction has blown up in their right winged faces.

    June 8, 2014 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  5. Lily

    @ dhh
    You are one of many of examples why republicans all the minds are deepened on elections and grabbing Power. You mean the current administration should sit idle, do nothing because its an election year? OR not to be seen doing something good of what they started long time ago? What were they elected to do? This kind of politics has no room anywhere.

    June 8, 2014 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  6. davidfarrar

    It is also becoming apparent now, over White House denials, that a very large ransom was paid to the Haqqani organization (large enough to pay for their entire operation for the next decade), along with the release of the five Taliban leaders for Bergdahl’s release.

    ex animo

    June 8, 2014 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  7. Larry

    What a Liberal bee hive here. No wonder why CNN's ratings are bad and getting worse. To defend this administration after all the bad decisions and destruction they have done is baffling.

    June 8, 2014 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  8. Emily

    "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.
    Where was this attitude regarding Bengazi?

    June 8, 2014 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  9. 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 8, 2014 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  10. 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 8, 2014 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  11. George

    John Kerry has always had trouble determining who the enemy is.

    June 8, 2014 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  12. GaryAttyAtLaw

    1. There is no evidence he deserted.

    Merely leaving your post is not desertion. Under the Military Code it is an Unlawful Absence. To desert s soldier must leave their post with the intent to remain away permanently. Bergdahl had left his post on 2 prior occasions and returned. So the evidence suggests that he did not desert but was unlawfully absent. Also, his mental state must be considered in determining intent.

    2. The remaining detainees must be tried or released after 2014.

    The President under the 2012 NDAA all detainees must be tried or released. So the 5 Taliban detainees were going to released anyway. At least the President got a soldier in return. After 2014 he must release and may not get anything in return.

    3. Republicans in Congress had written the President urging him to do all he could to get Bergdahl released.

    Before the far right decided to politicize the exchange, republicans in the Senate and House urged the President to get him back. Sen McCain knew of the proposed exchange as far back as 2011 and in February of this year said he supported the exchange.

    4. Republicans initially sent out emails welcoming Bergdahl home and gave thanks for his release.

    But after the far right decided to politicize the exchange they erased their emails. It shows they have no integrity and will do anything to score points with their base no matter how despicable.

    5 The President while not notifying Congress 30 days before the exchange was within his Constitutional right to ignore the requirement and make the exchange.

    The law passed by Congress required the President to notify them 30 days before a transfer or release of any Gitmo detainee. However this was not just a release it was a release WITH AN EXCHANGE OF A US SOLDIER. The law conflicted with the President's Commander in Chief power under the Constitution which gives the president sole authority to make POW exchanges. When a law passed by Congress conflicts with the Constitution the Constitution triumphs.

    June 8, 2014 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  13. Tom

    Yeah, and you are an idiot like your boss. You have opened up doors that we will never be able to close. Shame on all of you.

    June 8, 2014 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  14. Gurgyl

    -any one with brain will defend his safe arrival. GOP is pathetic, even soldier is arms away to danger these thugs rant. What do they want? An American soldier die? Nonsense. Great job, Pres. Obama. God bless.

    June 8, 2014 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  15. seriously

    king come on what part of the country you been living in my friend? Colorado ? lol this is a horrible thing for the administration to do and never mind the fact that all of his former unit has come out and called him a traitor for desertion they would know best being stuck with him in the place, and as for the morale of our soldiers how happy can you be knowing that Taliban now know that kidnapping and torturing you will get things out of our weak government. oh ya they must be jumping for joy to hear this

    June 8, 2014 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  16. Justin Cider

    Kerry is used to having to defend himself against vets telling lies about him simply because they disagree with his politics. Bergdahl will have to do the same unfortunately as the GOP has no issue parading his former soldiers (discharge less than honorably) to tell stories about his and take them as fact. Perhaps we should wait for facts before swift-boating Bergdahl...

    Sadly, the GOP can let no crisis go wasted, any chance to tarnish Obama!

    June 8, 2014 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  17. Gurgyl

    -any one with brain will defend his safe arrival. GOP is pathetic, even soldier is arms away to danger these thugs rant. What do they want? An American soldier die? Nonsense. Great job, Pres. Obama. God bless.

    June 8, 2014 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  18. Lizzie

    Why can't we just wait and see what comes out of the so-called investigation, before making assumptions.

    June 8, 2014 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  19. Jerry Morrison

    Kerry and Bergdahl are kindred spirits, both traitors.

    June 8, 2014 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  20. joejmauro

    He dont know,he knows,we know the State department is inept.Our dwindling allies know it and the uncivilized world knows it most of all.

    June 8, 2014 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  21. Beth

    I wonder, since Kerry still has his medals, is he going to throw them over the fence again when obama leaves office?

    June 8, 2014 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  22. sandy

    What a disaster for Obama and everyone associated with him. LMAO. Cannot wait for November, let the shellacking begin!

    June 8, 2014 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  23. Dean

    Duh. Did anyone think Kerry would have an opinion different from his leader Obama?

    June 8, 2014 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  24. elle

    Oh Please. He released them because he is going to drone them. Obama is not stupid.

    June 8, 2014 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  25. Obama Defense Force

    The racist GOP are behind this, you mark my words. They have kidnapped Obama and replaced him with a look-alike imposter who negotiates with terrorists and makes the real Obama look bad. Please stop blaming Obama this is not his fault at all.

    June 8, 2014 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
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