President Obama stuck to a "sacred obligation" when he agreed to a deal with the Taliban to release five prisoners held by at the U.S. military facility in Guantanamo Bay in exchange for the freedom of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, White House National Security Adviser Susan Rice said today.
"This is a very special situation. Sergeant Bergdahl wasn't simply a hostage, he was an American prisoner of war, captured on the battlefield. We have a sacred obligation that we have upheld since the founding of our Republic to do our utmost to bring back our men and women who were taken in battle. And we did that in this instance," Rice told ABC's George Stephanopoulos today on "This Week" in a rare Sunday interview.
On Saturday, the president confirmed that Bergdahl, held for nearly five years, was in U.S. custody after a deal was struck with the Taliban with the help of Qatar - an ally of the United States - to release him. Qatar agreed to take the five men into custody and they will be banned from travel for a year.
Rice also cited Bergdahl's health as a major concern for the swiftness of the deal and as a reason why the president did not give Congress 30 days notice before the swap, even though U.S. officials said Saturday that he was in good condition.
"In fact what we had to do and what did do, consistent with the president's constitutional authority as commander in chief, is prioritize the health of Sergeant Bergdahl," she said. "We had reason to be concerned that this was an urgent and an acute situation, that his life could have been at risk. We did not have 30 days to wait. And had we waited and lost him, I don't think anybody would have forgiven the United States government."
Joining other members of his party in slamming the swap, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who appeared on "This Week" following Rice, said "all of us celebrate with Sergeant Bergdahl" before offering harsh criticism, saying the "terms of the deal are very troubling."
"I think it is very disturbing that we are releasing five acknowledged terrorist Taliban leaders in a deal with terrorists. That precedent and - you know, unfortunately, George, it's part and parcel with the pattern we've seen of the Obama administration across the board," Cruz said.
Rice pushed back against criticism that releasing the five detainees to the Persian Gulf State of Qatar might pose a risk to the United States.
"Well, the law says that we need to have sufficient confidence that the risk can be substantially mitigated. And we do have those - we do have that confidence based on a detailed understanding with the government of Qatar based on President Obama's personal communication with the emir of Qatar on Tuesday when it looked like this possibility might be imminent," Rice said.
During the interview, Rice was also asked by Stephanopoulos if the details of Bergdahl's initial disappearance would be investigated.
"Certainly anybody who has been held in those conditions, in captivity for five years has paid an extraordinary price. But that is really not the point. The point is that he is back," she said.
"He is going to be safely reunited with his family. He served the United States with honor and distinction. And we'll have the opportunity eventually to learn what has transpired in the past years," Rice added.
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