Controversy Arises About US POW Release

The president faces criticism after Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was released in exchange for five high-ranking Taliban officials from Guantanamo Bay.
31:49 | 06/02/14

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Transcript for Controversy Arises About US POW Release
This is a special room. And I want you know that I love you I'm proud of you I'm so proud of your character. I'm -- proud of your patience. And your perseverance. I'm so proud of your cultural. Abilities. To adapt. Your language skills. Here -- your desire. And your action. To serve this country. In a very difficult long war. The father of sergeant -- -- dealt with a message to his son. Still out of reach but now in safe hands after five years as a hostage of the Taliban in Afghanistan. And Pakistan. Lou I'm -- Cutler in New York sergeant Burgos freedom. Has brought -- to his family and to many Americans but it did come at a price five men believed to be senior Taliban officials. Have been released to the qatari government in exchange after a year they'll be free to return to the battlefield. So with more on -- release and the reaction from -- from Washington -- -- -- ABC's Marcy Gonzales Marcy. Had down while so many are celebrating -- is also outrage at the risks taken to Greenberg doll who sources say it was captured by the Taliban. After willingly walking away from his base. Sargent bill -- -- in Germany at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center today being debriefed and he compressing after he was rescued by US special forces in Pakistan this weekend. The end to five years of being held captive by the Taliban and you can -- it. -- next year -- more patient and compassionate than ever. You are free trade and it's yours. Certain -- -- freedom came in exchange for the US releasing five high ranking and high risk members of the Taliban from Guantanamo Bay. The deal facing harsh criticism for breaking a long standing policy of not negotiating with terrorists. Want you start doing it. Every other terrorist has an incentive. To capture morsel of the Taliban fighters who were released were sent to Carter where the government imposed a one year travel ban. The US saying steps have been taken to ensure that after the ban is lifted they don't return to the terrorist fight. -- question whether the exchange was legal. By law congress must be notified thirty days before any prisoner is released from Guantanamo but the White House defends the deal explaining what had an obligation to act quickly for -- -- -- release we had information that. His health could be deteriorating rapidly now surgeon -- -- is said to be in good health prepping for his eventual return to his hometown Haley Idaho. And the parents who never gave up hold. We'll see you soon my beloved -- -- -- it. And Sargent -- tells parents haven't spoken to him yet but we're told they could be reunited in Texas. As soon as Wednesday -- ABC's Martha Gonzales with the latest on that Angola it Marcy thank you for that I wanna go now to Washington to the White House for ABC's Devin Dwyer is standing by outside of north -- there and Devin we just heard there from senator Ted Cruz accusing the government. Of negotiating with terrorists how prevalent though is that suggestion in Washington right now. -- did a good morning Dan that's right well -- a number Republicans have come out using that line of attack against this deal that that this is an unprecedented action by the White House negotiating. How with the Taliban with terrorists with -- air with a group of people that -- killed so many thousands of Americans and indeed. Many of those who were released are accused of doing that. But but here at the White House a good bit. -- rebuttal we'll hear more from Jay Carney in the White House briefing room in just a little while they said. We've heard from officials that because this war is ending -- because of the American ethos is not leaving a service member on the battlefield no matter what the circumstances. They simply had to get him out this was the best deal was urgent his health concerns were very urgent and that's what -- imitated -- Now the national security advisor Susan Rice was asked to respond in fact of the criticism of the -- and and this was her response yesterday. On ABC's this week. Sargent -- -- wasn't as simply a hostage she 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 if for some reason. We took a position on the 21 century when some of our adversaries may not be traditional state actors. That we would not to do our utmost to to bring our prisoners of war home. And that would break faith with the American people what the men and women who serve in uniform so regardless of who may be holding. An American Prisoner of War we must do our best to bring him -- her back. So -- is this a matter of defining the word terrorists and and then identifying the group Taliban as a terrorist group. Well then -- I I think that's. Partially in the words is is a bit more than -- than most people here are doing at this stage I think. Really -- in terms of Washington politics of people looking at is this is this legal obligation. That the president had to notify congress thirty days ahead of any sort of deal here he did not do that -- we should add. He put signing statement on the defense authorization bill saying he never intended to really -- that part of the loss we can debate the merits there about. Really aside from whether these guys are terrorists or not -- the Taliban are terrorists are not the White House line here. Is that this was is part of Indian the American. Involvement in the war in Afghanistan that this thing is coming to an and we saw the president last -- talk a lot about that at West Point. And that because it's so quickly coming to an -- now they needed to address this open question. As one official here told me Dan. If they thought they could go win with -- navy -- say it and in capture Sargent bird doll for swiftly and easily they -- already done it. So it's their -- that said that this was simply come as a last option we don't leave people on the battlefield and I certainly a controversial movement that's the one they take and they -- they were -- in order options out there. What at this point -- is being made of the fact that the negotiations. Were made through a chain of command on the Taliban side and that the group delivered berg gulf safely. In -- are officials more confident knows about potential peace talks in the future based on this. Well there's a good bit of skepticism is there had had has been for some time now in in those reconciliation. Talks as -- as they're described in. There are never -- intermediaries that were involved in this specific deal with getting the sergeants. Release. In this case qatari government some. An ally partner if you will that the White House has sought to work more closely with so -- Their release trumpeting that. Partner -- in getting this deal done. But yeah I needed their -- -- you heard from Susan Rice on Sunday saying they're hopeful that this sort of development will Foster some good -- between both sides. You heard -- today from that the Afghan president Hamid Karzai. Outrage really that he was excluded here that this deal with -- done outside his purview on the side. So -- maybe some bad feelings there about. I don't think anyone is holding their breath that this is going to be it'd be some panacea to bid to to -- tensions in in disagreements have been going on for some time that there is. A modicum of hope that maybe this will help facilitate those reconciliation talks. ABC's Devin -- outside the White House Devin thank you that appreciate it as always and of course I want to go to the Pentagon now where we had ABC's -- Martinez standing by in Louis. We've heard from officials who are happy that they got berg dog released from others -- soldiers themselves are -- in fact that the price for that freedom. Was incredibly high what is the prevailing mood at the Pentagon. Well the mood here is that the first thing that has to be done is to reintegrate -- doll back. Into American society say that's where the focus is right now I just came out of a briefing where the spokesman was peppered with questions about. -- that these allegations that American soldiers died in the search for him if he -- search for him over these last couple of years. And they said the official a spokesman -- pretty much you know these questions for a later on let's just deal with. His current care right now which is described as stable. He's currently at that hospital and -- still in Germany. Hi -- -- it probably for another couple of days forties transferred out there two San Antonio. And then it's that's when he's filing going to be meeting -- up with his family again. I'm but for now it's a slow deliberative process. We heard in numbers he's -- -- talk about the the -- is -- briefings that are going on. And they say that -- -- briefings are geared towards what his situation was and less towards what the circumstances war. Which Jesus and we've seen online now several. Articles that have come out from -- colleagues squad mates and his platoon. Hussein is -- pretty much got up and left them for their position and that that led to the risking the lives unnecessarily so they believe in the search for him. Who -- eyewitness if you -- -- wanna go back to the White House there where Press Secretary Jay Carney is holding the daily press briefing and speaking with reporters prisoners about this very conflicts are hardly. A new development including in our history in the United States. Whether it's the Japanese or the north Koreans. There -- others we have engaged in. Prisoner exchanges in the past. We don't the United States does not. Leave our men and women in uniform behind. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff general Martin Dempsey said in a statement quote it is our ethos that we never leave a fallen comrade. Today we have back in our ranks the only remaining captured soldier from our conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Welcome home sergeant over -- And that's. The senior most member of our military speaking. And you know there have been detainees -- returned. What are the guarantees. Other than just -- one year ban -- travel. News five. -- They won't go back and permit US interest US personnel. Again I'll -- stipulate that prisoner exchanges. -- Not uncommon and armed conflicts secondly I'll say that with that without getting into specific assurances. I can tell you that. They included. A travel ban and information sharing on the detainees between our governments between the United States and cutter. I can also tell you that the assurances were sufficient to allow the secretary of defense Chuck Hagel. In coordination with the national security team to determine that the threat posed by the detainees to the United States. Would be sufficiently mitigated. And the transfer was in the US national security interest. So this. Was done after the appropriate consideration. And analysis and it was the judgment of the secretary of defense in coordination with. The entire national security team. That there was sufficient mitigation in place and assurances in place to allow -- exchange. Why do you give the congress for thirty days notice officer for park. As I think you heard the national security advisor -- over the weekend it was that judgment of the team and the president that there was. Enough urgency here to ensure that sergeant -- -- Was safely recovered. -- a thirty day window of hoping that it and that opportunity. Remained open. Was not an option and ultimately as commander in chief the president had a responsibility to. To take the action he did to ensure -- As chairman Dempsey said our only. Many prisoner of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan was safely recovered and what was the urgency -- Well going back to the questions -- answered from Jim this has been an effort that has taken years to bring about a recovering. -- And there are no guarantees in situations like this just as there were not in the past when it seemed possible we might recover him but did not. It's something like this would remain an open possibility -- we waited any longer and so when the opportunity presented itself and we could successfully. Recover and we acted quickly to do so. The moment he was in US custody the notifications of members of congress began. But in this circumstances commander in chief the president. -- that was absolutely the right thing to do. To ensure that sort of -- was in US custody. Been determined yet whether he was -- -- First and foremost thing that we have to. Recognize here is that. Sort of -- was in captivity. For five years. Held against his will. And it was absolutely the right thing to do consistent with our tradition. In the United States to secure his return. The Defense Department will obviously has been and will continue didn't -- the lead in terms of valuing all of the circumstances surrounding his initial attention and his captivity. And that process continues obviously. Directly with -- -- now that he is in US. Care. But I would point you again to what chairman Dempsey said and -- secretary of defense -- sentiments of many others have said about. The ethos that we hear in the United States abide by. When it comes to. Men and women who -- taken prisoner during armed conflicts and the history of this government taking actions to secure the return of our POWs is. I'm grateful -- More -- of us sort of was there since -- administration. Congress was notified. Before. Members of congress might put up roadblocks. And make it more difficult to release we're -- -- I think the issue is simply that there was a near term opportunity. To recover -- -- doll and save his life. And so we moved as quickly as possible to do. The administration. Determined that given the unique. And -- circumstances such transfer should go forward notwithstanding in notice requirement of the NBA. Because of the circumstances because as we've discussed. The state of his health effectively been held for five years in captivity the fact that. There were no guarantees that the window would remain open. The window of opportunity to recover and it was the right thing to do to move quickly and and take that opportunity. And obviously a lot of questions about legality of this at point blank. Does the president feel as though on this issue in this kind of mission control -- absolutely not. To be clear the thirty day notice requirement has appeared in NBA bills and and other legislation in this and prior years and we have repeatedly noted concerns. With this requirement and signing statements he has he the president. Has consistently made clear that the executive branch. Must have the flexibility to act swiftly and conducting negotiations with foreign countries regarding the circumstances of detainee transfers if necessary. And that was certainly the case here. On the issue of those signing statements the president's when he was first running. He thought restraint. Needed to -- news. With sciences. Is -- an example of presidential history. I appreciate you rephrase that question because it's -- -- -- reported that he somehow took the position against all signing statements that was never the case as a senator. And candidate he -- clear that there were times when it would be appropriate. But did the authority to issue signing statements should not be. Overused -- abused and that of a president should exercise restraint and I think if you look at his record in office now five and a half years in office you'll see that restraint demonstrated. But there will be and have been circumstances when. Signing -- statements are necessary. Because of the president's view -- the executive branch -- view the constitutional constitutional issues involved in particular legislation. And with -- this specific. Situation within the -- a bill that was already addressed within a signing statement. And last question. Has the president put a price on the heads of other Americans. Because of the way this -- I think this goes back to the general proposition. That has been true throughout our history as a nation that we. The United States always -- the return. Our prisoners in an armed conflict and there is. Long history. A prisoner strengthen exchanges in previous armed conflict. And this action that was taken to recover Sargent -- entirely consistent with this past practice. So remember go to prison. In an armed conflict. And we did the right thing by after five years of captivity. Securing his release and recovery and returned to the United States. The fact of the matter is. As I noted before if you look through our history. There are ample there are ample precedents to this kind. Decision because as chairman Dempsey said and so many others have said we don't leave our men and women behind. And we don't. We don't qualify a decision about leaving them behind are now leaving them behind based on the on who's holding him. This roll -- its reference to get. -- -- The following. -- -- The options. I think that's a good question I think -- -- is absolutely the case that this administration not unlike previous administrations. Engages aggressively in an effort to recover Americans who are being held. Against their will. In other circumstances. And and that includes. Americans being held in Iran or in Cuba or elsewhere. And we I think it's important to note that as we find relief -- -- -- Recovery our thoughts and prayers are with. Those other Americans whose release we continue to pursue and with their friends and family. When it comes to. A member of the military. Who is being held. As a prisoner during an armed conflict there is. Quite a bit of precedent for. The action that we took and and and the bottom line that we the United States in the United States Miller military does not. Walk away and leave behind. Members who -- held prisoner during an armed conflict. This is does the president share that concern that has been voiced by some members of families. -- Their lives will be. I think it's fair to say that. Americans in that conflict and elsewhere have. Put themselves in harm's way on behalf. Us and everyone in the United States for quite a long time and I don't think that the decision to seek -- in complete. Consistently pieces have -- to seek incomplete consistency with our history the release of the POW. Alters that equation at all. Any more than it did when we. He engaged in exchanges with the north Koreans -- with the Japanese or others in previous conflicts in our history. -- Since. It appears at least. That sergeant walked away from the -- His weapon was not involved actual combat. Did. The national security advisor. Misspeak when he says that -- served with honor and distinction. And if she did not speak healthy cancer -- it's. Again you you're you're citing. The circumstance with a lot of this attached to -- I would referring to Defense Department in terms of its assessment and review the circumstances under which -- can prevail. Was initially detained. And I would point to what the chairman of the joint chiefs said about his successful recovery. And it's consistent it's consistency with -- those it has long been. Held here in the United States and by our military. -- that should appeal to these questions. Words used to describe concerns he was promoted. During his captivity and Susan Rice -- he served with honor distinction. Is that true well. I would certainly -- Defense Department you -- his promotion and and I think this -- this goes to questions about his initial detention. The Defense Department is the body it has been reviewing that we'll continue to review it. Now that. -- -- -- -- has been recovered. The fact of the matter is he was held captive by. An enemy force. In an armed conflict with the United States and our allies for five years and consistent with. Centuries of past practice. We sought and success sought to recover -- and successfully recovered. What -- Press Secretary Jay -- we'll continue to feel some of the questions there on this Monday afternoon and that will be live streaming right here -- -- And many questions though regarding soldier Sargent bill berg -- release that was negotiated over the weekend. And for some of the developments that came out of that press briefing I want to bring in Louis Martinez who's standing by at the Pentagon and -- You to send -- a note regarding berg -- status what do we know about him right now. Pulling on his condition is stable that the hospital in Germany where he's being treated. And that the psychologist they're pretty much are not gonna let him -- his family as part of this with the holidays three stage reintegration process. So they acclimate himself back into society. So he's not overwhelmed by society. And so they are not gonna let him -- his family members until they are absolutely certain. That the time is right. It appears that when that happens -- -- back here stateside. When he returns to San Antonio Texas. Where is going to be treated at Brooke Army Medical Center there and his treatment will continue. Memories gain in five -- -- in captivity for five years. You can only imagine what his mental state must be. Being probably overwhelmed by a lot. Things going on and in right now. But the update is that he's status is stable. I -- and we might recall that you've heard some of the questions they're debriefing that. They -- health concerns that prompted. Urgent action so that when there is -- congress was not notified. We asked the spokesman here about what further expiration of his condition. Well he would say is that there were issues related to his nutrition and diet. That obviously he has not eaten well over the last five years but beyond that whether they were any life threatening injuries she would not -- -- going a little bit deeper than if you can -- but the fact. Jay Carney was asked about the fact. Whether or not the president -- that he -- was in any kind of violation by not notifying congress thirty days at a time which is dictated. For any kind of release or any kind of action on that. Jay Carney went back in fact to the president's campaign and when he was still a senator from Illinois about his stance on that very issue. Very interesting here that isn't because. There are outlined is that they have going back to -- -- national -- have authorization act about whether. He put a letter set aside there about whether he would abide by certain aspects that requirement in the law. Khamenei said that he was not going to the held -- to that. Standard. But another thing to you go back to -- Jay Carney was saying in -- briefing repeatedly was that he felt lately saying it clearly. That the president did the right thing and bring him back. That. This is a POW. I just like as in any other wars like any -- The conflict in Japan I -- North Korea. And that this is just in keeping in the spirit of that now the legalities. That -- legal requirements -- that -- he had to notify congress within a thirty day span. And then they -- -- detainees to be released. That's going to be debated further but you know pretty much very clearly where the White House stance on this right now. Also that was brought up -- this afternoon is press briefing was the statement that was made by the national security advisor Susan Rice. -- saying in fact that bill berg dog has served with honor and distinction and we just heard there from our Jim model -- field -- mysteries of the questions. Already Jay -- about that. -- -- -- had abandoned his post without a weapon correct. That is what we've heard from sources going back -- the initial days. The reports that he had been taken captive by the Haqqani Network I remember talking to officials back then. About the circumstances and it is all very murky -- we just don't have a good enough explanation as to what happened. But I was told that he. What was found whereas -- his rifle and as well as his body armor on the he had left behind fumble over the years has been additional information has come out. About the circumstances. Something and is having -- an observation post. But -- what you are hearing right now is former squad -- members of his platoon setting for taking -- social media. To complain that -- always a deserter and that he may have. Collect -- deaths of several other members of the broader -- the battalion that was looking for him. Hi there in eastern Pakistan. The -- -- opposed two the spokesman Jay Carney there had to deal with. Susan -- kind of -- it -- on early career you kind of -- a little dancing around -- from Kearney about that because. Basically talking about how all American soldiers and service members serve honorably. Regardless -- he's again cited that he had been promoted while he was. And comment which by the way is a standard. -- by the the military whenever someone is taking captive. They follow a standard timeline by which that captured service members promoted. Bergalis not the only one this has happened to happen to other communities. Notably and Iraq. There are a lot of questions right now exactly how logistically this was executed in President Obama this week and speaking at the White House essentially. Is spread around some of the credit for getting this exchange to take place when a place -- of what he said. I'm also grateful for the tireless work of our diplomats. And for the cooperation. The government of Qatar in helping to secure. Most release. We've worked for so for years to achieve -- goal and earlier this week I was able to personally thank they mirror of Qatar for his leadership in helping us get it done. As part of this effort -- the United States is transferring five detainees from the prison in Guantanamo Bay to Qatar. The qatari government has given us assurances there will put in place measures to protect our national security. I also want expressed gratitude to the Afghan government which is always support our efforts to secure -- release. Going forward the United States will continue to support an Afghan led process of reconciliation. Which could help secure a harder and peace within a sovereign and unified Afghanistan. Two major players -- -- Qatar and and Afghanistan is exactly what to the Afghanistan it would of the Afghani government know. About this that does this operation. Well apparently in -- kept in the dark because we are -- -- say that he did not find out about the transfer until after it had taken place. This was the result of its indirect contacts facilitated by the qatari -- between the United States and the Taliban. And as a part of those in direct contacts the Afghan government was last -- kept out. Now -- that theme has been that these indirect contact me eventually lead to a broader conciliation between. The Afghanistan's leaders current government and the Taliban. That is in the focus. US diplomacy in that region for the last couple of years. Trying to bring the different parties in Afghanistan to the table it's been difficult. Karzai initially. Welcomed talks with Taliban and then stepped back. And as part of those talks there -- this issue of each prisoner swap. -- per adult and five that Guantanamo detainees that was always on the table as a just a couple of years ago. Very little progress made after initial meetings and then out of the -- just last week. We hear that. -- was a surprise. Some kind of movement that facilitated -- this moving forward very very quickly. How exactly did Qatar and up the middle man in all of this. Kate Qatar is a very small country with a very small population of very large diplomatic preach in the region. In the gulf states they are seen as intermediaries. Who are amenable to that the Taliban who are welcome by the Taliban. I'm because in the past days they subsidized. The -- -- fights which against the Soviet Union which led. Eventually to the rise of the Taliban. They United States -- Qatar as a valuable ally in the region there's an American air base there so that they are close ties between both of them. Be the kind of sensitive to think that but Qatar is also -- regional player. They are part of the -- effort among gulf states. To bankroll and -- -- -- provide arms to use the Syrian rebels in fighting against aside in Syria. Societe issues -- again Qatar -- small footprint. Surprisingly large scale diplomatic presence. ABC's -- right here is standing by at the Pentagon -- thank you Nevada has always appreciated. And we do have to events that we're packaging luxury right here at Whining is a briefing by State Department spokesperson Jen -- at State Department regarding. But -- -- release and also Jay -- we'll continue to brief reporters at the White House both of those live streaming right here. And of course you can keep up with this story in real time by downloading the ABC news -- -- the story for exclusive updates on the go. For now I'm down -- New York.

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