Backlash Over Bowe Bergdahl Swap

Critics say the president did not have the authority to make prisoner exchange that brought home POW Bowe Bergdahl.
15:07 | 06/03/14

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Transcript for Backlash Over Bowe Bergdahl Swap
This is a special group. This is. What happens at -- -- -- -- -- That was true for George Washington that was true for. Abraham Lincoln that was true for FDR. That's been true. Every. Combat situation. That at some point you make sure that you try to get your folks back. And that's the right thing to do. President Obama today in Poland the first stop on a three country -- -- -- Defending his decision to trade five Taliban prisoners for captive American soldier Sargent -- for -- Hello everyone I'm Michelle Franzen in New York the backlash is growing the questions are mounting. And now -- Sargent -- -- continues his long road home we are learning more about his initial disappearance. But the latest here's ABC's Karen Travers. Thank you President Obama said today the US has -- secret rule we don't leave. Our men or women in uniform behind. But the controversy. Is growing around the deal to bring home army sergeant -- -- held prisoner by the Taliban for five years. Burn -- fellow soldiers say he's no hero and -- strong accusation from the soldier who shared a room with him. I feel like he deserted us. He knew -- he was doing when he deserted us. It was premeditated. -- it was thought out another fellow soldier described bird -- -- a little odd but not alarming he was very upset with. -- -- the army's focus on how we're handling the war. Bird -- fellow soldiers say that within his first two months in the war zone he walked away from his post looking for the Taliban. He left his weapon and body armor behind. A former senior defense official said -- -- also left a note found after he was discovered missing. In a note bird dog did not say he was joining the Taliban. But it was more that he was simply leaving. Bird -- comrades say the massive search for him by US and Afghan forces cost at least six American soldiers their lives. But president Obama's -- today that regardless of the circumstances. We still get. An American soldier back to -- -- -- if -- period. Full stop. President Obama said today that disciplining -- doll is not being discussed but the chairman of the joint chiefs said the army leaders will not -- way. If misconduct occurred. Karen Travers ABC news Washington. And we're joined now from the Pentagon by ABC's Willie Martinez -- it seems like a simple question but -- planning a debate over today. In simplest terms are the Taliban groups a terrorist organization. Well. You gonna get conflicting information days depending on who you talk to you. The State Department is actually the official agency in the us government designates terrorist groups. They are not officially on that list however when you talk to National Security Council they point to executive orders that lists the Taliban. Is a terrorist fighting group. I -- is a little bit of that. Justice -- a conflict there as to whether they are a terrorist group or not and and the reason we we talk about this is because the United States has had a policy. Four decades that they will not negotiate with terrorists. And so that has led to some come complaints and some circles that the -- -- to swap for these five Taliban prisoners is in effect. Dealing with terrorists. The the official line here is that. They are. The State Department doesn't -- them how to designate them as a terrorist group but the smashed street council says that they are enemy combatants. Which is basically the same tradition that these individuals are held at Guantanamo they -- were considered to be. Enemy combatants so who or what agency ultimately decide that the group is to be treated by the letter of the law as terrorists. Well that a letter of the -- it's it's it's again it's a little Fuzzy because the the Bush Administration -- this term the enemy combatant. And as the re as a rationale for why these detainees are being held at Guantanamo. The State Department recently that terrorists organizations. For example al-Qaeda is is a terrorist organization. The Taliban is was a former government in Afghanistan. And though they have are engaging in conflict in battle on the battlefields of Afghanistan. I think -- US government and the State Department has not designated them as such. So ultimately I believe it's going to be with the National Security Council designation that we are dealing with enemy combatants. And I think that's the when it's gonna go forward -- That supports their argument that they are not dealing with terrorists. And Louis let's talk about a little bit Sargent bird -- here's some higher ups in the Pentagon are more sympathetic to bird -- Then what we're hearing from some vocal men who are speaking now that served with him. Is this a little bit about politics or insight into some of the divide within the military. Well I would cut a -- In the military I think it's just more about knowledge of the situation to situation. The ground truth and that. These former squad Macy's for a platoon members of bird calls in Afghanistan what they experienced -- night that he disappeared. What they experienced in the months afterwards when he went from desperately looking for them -- not just them but other platoons other units an entire battalion Oliver -- he. Province. So they -- they know what they went through and they say that they were 86 members of their battalion. Who would not have died had -- -- they not been on missions. She is looking for -- now. The counter argument is that in the united states military carries out a broader mission. No matter where they are on the battlefield and that -- -- -- carrying out this larger mission. That we're talking about is what was referenced in general and she's statement which is actually -- -- this morning. Where he said -- the first and we need do is focus on. Getting. The proper treatment affordable -- out. And and then also acknowledging that the army will probably have to take a look at the circumstances surrounding. His disappearance now in the last between -- we've just gotten an updated statement. From the head of the army army secretary John Q. Where he said that the first priority is ensuring Goldberg tells health. And -- generation process and that there's -- timeline. Asked how long that is going to take this today he says he's canoe we in the army -- -- review what is medically necessary take care of him. And then after that. He referenced the -- comments. And says that any review. Is of course going to include Conrad conversation -- for now about to whites the circumstances surrounding his departure. So we can learn what happened that night. But that any future decisions ultimately will have to wait for his treatment. That means all -- talk about desertion charges whether he. -- proper investigations and users will basically you have to wait until after. The proper care that he needs is taking care. And no timeline but certainly there are a lot of other people. Outside the official realm that will deal with this talking about whether or not bird -- wandered off from base that's what's been reported for the last few years. -- -- -- -- -- And also how does that coincide with what the White House had to say Susan Rice in the hours after his release -- he served with honor and distinction. There's been some controversy. Raised by her comments that he service honor and distinction because they're saying who if you -- earth early on that from squad mates. And the initial investigation into his disappearance -- -- and appeared that he had stepped away from his unit. They don't know why. We're told -- that classified investigation won't be released. That it's you know it's close. But -- they they say that basically. That is something that's gonna be determined later. So what what about this dichotomy -- Susan Rice talking about is serving honorably. Well you keep hearing it repeatedly and the statements from every official that we talked to. Even even those on camera at the White House talking about how we the United States -- not leave a soldier behind. And that's the key message here that they want to everyone to learn entity here which is that if you are a member of the US military. And if -- left on the battlefield in -- captured the United States will do what it can to bring you back and no questions asked and but those questions will be asked. A later on mandated appears that right now. There's the circle. Their questioning that's -- second guessing that's been. That's arisen in the wake of -- -- release. That's come kinda prematurely and it appears the White House -- and it surprised by the backlash that we're experiencing from those members of his squad. Who have stepped forward to talking about those tests that we talked about earlier. So. It's it's -- -- -- it's gonna have to be resolved but the message is scarier depending on -- of the White House that if you are a member of the military. You the United States has your back. ABC's Willie Martinez at the Pentagon thank you and we are now joined by ABC news political director Rick Klein to give us an idea of the the politics that are swirling around this as well senate. Intelligence chairwoman Dianne Feinstein has told reporters just this last hour that she got a call from the White House apologizing. For not keeping her in the loop. As this swap was finalized here was the president discussing congress today in Poland let's listen. We have consulted with congress. For quite some time about the possibility. That we might need to. Execute a prisoner exchange in order to recover Sargent -- We saw an opportunity. We were concerned about -- -- health. We had the cooperation of the targets. Two -- securities and exchange. And we season that -- And the process was truncated. Because we want to make sure that we did not miss that went. And Rick why do you think senator Feinstein decided to make the contents of that phone call public. Because she's hearing from a lot of her own democratic colleagues as well as that good a huge number Republicans who say this was extra legal maybe even illegal White -- acknowledged. They didn't comply with the a legal requirement to date that they tell congress about any. A release from Guantanamo with thirty days notice they acknowledge that they did not do that they say it was never constitutional requirement in the first place but this question of consultation is so important when you're talking about congressional relations. Often is not the members of congress are -- -- very -- explicitly veto something but they wanted to cut a little they wanna know about it they don't want to be blind sided by it. And so essential now to the argument for the white house of having consult with congress is the question of notification. They did have conversations as long as two years ago and again last year. About the possibility. Of releasing prisoners but they were very clear even at the time in testimony before congress in press statements in public statements and the rest -- they would always tell congress before they did this clearly they didn't do it. And there's some question them for the White House is raised about whether these things can be helped secret or not and I think though that members the intelligence community still look. We are the the guardians of this we're the ones who are in charge of this and if you can't trust also the nation's secrets and is no effective check or balance from from the legislative branch so. I think Dianne Feinstein had to go public -- this is a member of the president's party. To say look the -- the White House acknowledged they should have done better it was an oversight from their perspective. I think of a lot of Republicans are gonna have questions about how you can have an oversight like this is not like congress just just appeared. And first started asserting his responsibilities is -- -- and Rick do we know how those meetings turned out a few years back when they asked what the possibility work what would be for treating prisoners. Eight inclusive -- -- -- asked for Congress's permission they did consult them but we heard -- speaker John Boehner who acknowledged that this was that this was discussed -- years ago. As far back as twenty 20124013. And but at the time the members of congress on the Republican side raised objections they raise concerns same thing happened the public testimony sent senator Kelly -- Was was very upset about reports of the possibility of releasing prisoners from Guantanamo Bay for any purposes. And again the assurance in the administration was that there would be consultation again so they didn't answer the concerns on the Republican perspective two years ago. And they certainly didn't answer them over the weekend with this exchange. And from -- strictly political standpoint is it odd given how much we knew and how much -- don't know. But Susan Rice was out front on Sunday talking up Sargent -- -- record. Yeah I think there's a sense in political circles that she may have gotten a little too far in talking about honor and distinction and I eight we heard from the White House today clarifying that site slightly as -- -- he wore the uniform. And and the time he -- that's an honorable thing to do and it's a distinctive thing to do with someone who volunteered. For the army and served in Afghanistan in the field of theater in -- -- combat vet that by itself. As marks honor and distinction -- a lot of people that are familiar with the circumstances and as more people become more familiar with the circumstances of how Sargent Bert doll. Came to be off his face away from his post they're gonna raise questions about what that honor distinction really met now from the for the White House and -- -- fresh perspective. That's not even directly relevant their point is look there's a due process here -- innocent until proven guilty the question though they have this -- first walls -- we get someone back. And that's -- once you take care of that then you get into the legal proceedings and any kind of internal matters investigations about. What you say about where he should have been in in the circumstances of his initial detachment from the unit. But -- obviously it impacts the public perception both inside the military community and in the public. And the surgeon -- dog of course we've heard that he will go through his process of getting. To a healthy point before he is questioned and that will be on a separate track of how the military deals with that -- politically this is already out there. Hearings are also being called how well the White House. Deal with this backlash. I think they're a little surprised by it to be honest I think they saw this as a L way to kind of tie a ribbon -- a little bowl on the fact that they ended the Afghanistan conflict we just had an announcement last week from the White House about the ultimate wind down of troops -- 2015. And I think they're they're feeling was look we're gonna get the last Prisoner of War at a near the Iraq or Afghanistan conflicts this is someone should be treated. Back here -- -- as a hero should be treated as a success it's that typical kind of winding down of the war that you would exchange prisoners as part of it. But I think as people begin -- -- -- -- and they question. Whether this was legal whether this is the policy of the United States not to negotiate with terrorists and whether whether he was someone that was worth frankly negotiating for that's when the more serious questions -- -- I think. The president now is -- European trip when he returns on those questions are gonna continue. ABC news political director Rick Klein thank you thank you. This has been an ABC news digital special report keep up with this story in real time by downloading the ABC news -- and -- -- the story for exclusive updates on ago. For now I'm Michelle Franzen in New York.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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