WARSAW, Poland, June 3, 2014— -- For the first time since his Saturday speech in the Rose Garden, President Obama defended his administration's decision to secure the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl amid new questions about his capture in Afghanistan.
"Regardless of the circumstances, whatever those circumstances may turn out to be, we still get an American soldier back if he's held in captivity. True. Full stop," Obama said at a news conference at the Belweder Palace here this morning. "We don't condition that. That's what every mom and dad who sees a son or daughter sent over into war theater should expect from not just their commander in chief but the United States of America.
"The United States has always had a pretty sacred rule. And that is we don't leave our men or women in uniform behind, and that dates back to the earliest days of our revolution," he said.
The president said the administration had consulted Congress in the past about the possibility of a prisoner exchange in order for the Taliban to release Bergdahl. The administration has come under fire by lawmakers for not consulting Congress prior to the swap.
Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban June 30, 2009, after, sources say, he walked away from his remote base, leaving his weapon behind. Taliban videos soon followed, showing the desperate young soldier pleading for freedom.
That freedom came after nearly five years in captivity. The United States government agreed to a deal with the Taliban to release five prisoners held at the U.S. military facility in Guantanamo Bay in exchange for Bergdahl’s freedom.
"We saw an opportunity. We were concerned about Sergeant Bergdahl's health. We had the cooperation of the Qataris to execute an exchange, and we seized that opportunity," Obama said. "The process was truncated because we wanted to make sure we did not miss that window."
Obama acknowledged that the five Guantanamo detainees swapped for Bergdahl's release could pose a future threat to the country.
"Is there a possibility of some of them trying to return to activities that are detrimental to us? Absolutely," he said. "I wouldn't be doing it if I thought it was contrary to American national security, and we have confidence that we will be in a position to go after them if in fact they are engaging in activities threaten our defenses."
The president said the United States has not interrogated Bergdahl while he is recovering and undergoing tests after five years in captivity.
Obama is in Poland to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the country’s first, partially free elections that put an end to Communist rule. It is the first stop on his four-day European tour that will take him to Brussels, Paris and Normandy, France.