McCain: Rescue Was Duty but Prisoner Swap Endangers US Soldiers

Image: McCain: Rescue Was Duty but Prisoner Swap Endangers US Soldiers

Tuesday, 03 Jun 2014 08:46 PM

By Todd Beamon

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The United States had a duty to rescue Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, but the trade for five senior Taliban detainees could endanger U.S. military service members, Sen. John McCain told Newsmax on Tuesday.

"You have an obligation to do what's necessary to achieve the return of any American who is being held by the enemy," McCain said in an exclusive interview.

The Arizona Republican spent more than five years as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War.

"But you must not take steps that would cause the lives of the men and women who are serving to be further endangered — and that is exactly what has happened here," he said.

Bergdahl, 28, was released to U.S. special forces over the weekend in Afghanistan in exchange for the Taliban militants who were being held in the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The deal was brokered by the government of Qatar.

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The released Taliban include Afghanistan's deputy defense minister under Taliban rule and others who played major roles in the regime that helped shield those behind the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. They are barred from leaving Qatar for a year.

Bergdahl, a native of Hailey, Idaho, had been held by the Taliban since June 30, 2009. He was taken as a private and promoted while in captivity. He has since come under fire as a deserter who should be held accountable for his actions.

The team leader who supervised Bergdahl appeared on Newsmax TV on Monday and echoed charges made by other platoon members that the sergeant's actions cost the lives of soldiers sent to search for him.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday that Bergdahl might still face disciplinary action if the Army finds evidence of misconduct.

In his Newsmax interview, McCain said Tuesday that he remained very troubled about the swap because of the dangerous backgrounds of the Taliban detainees.

"It's deeply disturbing because these individuals are the hard-core Taliban who will be going to a country where they will roam freely," he said. "Even if they're restrained there, they're free to return to Afghanistan in a year — and they pose a great threat to the lives of the men and women who are serving.

"It is a significant and real threat."

The Taliban prisoners released were Mohammad Fazl, Mullah Norullah Noori, Mohammad Nabi Omari, Khair Ulla Said Wali Khairkhwa, and Abdul Haq Wasiq. Fazl is the former deputy defense minister for the Taliban, Wasiq is a former deputy intelligence minister, and Norulla Noori and Khairkhwa were regional governors.

"At Guantanamo Bay, there was periodic review of their cases, and they always concluded — those who reviewed their cases — that they posed a great risk to the security of the United States of America," McCain told Newsmax. "That is why they were kept in confinement."

He noted that the Taliban has an office in Qatar and the released Afghans "will be able to freely plot and plan with the Taliban."

McCain called the accusations against Bergdahl "very disturbing" — adding that they need to be "resolved through investigation and whatever actions need to be taken."

"But even if there were no allegations concerning how he was captured, the fact remains that we have an obligation to not take action that would put American men and women serving in the military in greater danger — and that's exactly what this release did."

He noted how National Security Adviser Susan Rice praised Bergdahl on ABC's "This Week" program on Sunday, saying that the sergeant had "served the United States with honor and distinction."

McCain then referenced the 2012 Benghazi attacks that killed four Americans. Five days afterward, Rice — the United Nations ambassador at the time — went on five Sunday talk shows and attributed the assaults to anti-Muslim sentiment over a YouTube video.

The theory has since been debunked by an email showing a White House official advising her to cite the video to help protect President Barack Obama's re-election bid.

"Why would she say such a thing when the evidence points differently?" McCain asked.

"My suggestion is maybe she ought not to go on the Sunday shows," he added, chuckling. "Amazing."

Rice has come under fire for praising Bergdahl amid reports that he walked away from his post without a weapon — and that at least six soldiers were killed in subsequent searches for him in the rugged Paktika Province of southeastern Afghanistan after he deserted.

Perhaps what has most angered McCain about the Bergdahl swap is the Obama administration's contention that it had disclosed the deal to Congress before it occurred on Saturday.

"I understand why the White House might be secretive, but for them to say that they had consulted with Congress on this, of course, is infuriating because they didn't," he said.

Obama defended his decision, saying at a news conference in Poland on Tuesday that his administration had consulted with Congress about that possibility "for some time."

But the National Defense Authorization Act requires the administration to give Congress 30 days' notice of any pending release of Guantanamo Bay prisoners.

The White House has since apologized to Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the panel's ranking Republican, for not informing them beforehand.

They were notified — along with Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Rep. Mike Rogers, head of the House Intelligence Committee — after Bergdahl was turned over to U.S. special forces.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, however, did know of the White House's plans in advance, according to news reports.

"Perhaps they view talking to Harry Reid as consulting with Congress, which seems rather bizarre to me," McCain told Newsmax.

However, reflecting on the Bergdahl situation overall, the senator said it brought to mind the credo he and two other Americans shared when they were held by the North Vietnamese.

McCain was captured in October 1967 after he was shot down on a Navy bombing mission over Hanoi. He was seriously injured and remained a prisoner of war until 1973. He spent two years in solitary confinement.

"Out motto in prison, in Vietnam, was 'home with honor,' " he told Newsmax. "We wanted to make sure that we returned in the most honorable fashion.

"In other words, not to have given in to the efforts of the enemy for us to violate the code of conduct."

"So, you stick together and see it through?" McCain was asked.

"Yes. Yes."

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