Obama on Bergdahl Swap: I Make No Apologies

“We do not leave anybody wearing the American uniform behind,” the president said at a press conference Thursday morning.

National Journal
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Marina Koren
June 5, 2014, 6:34 a.m.

An Amer­ic­an sol­dier’s re­lease from Taliban cap­tiv­ity first drew cel­eb­ra­tion, then cri­ti­cism, and now, a lot of con­fu­sion.

The White House, however, knows where it stands.

“We do not leave any­body wear­ing the Amer­ic­an uni­form be­hind. We had a pris­on­er of war whose health had de­teri­or­ated, and we were deeply con­cerned about, and we saw an op­por­tun­ity, and we seized it,” Pres­id­ent Obama said Thursday dur­ing a press con­fer­ence from the G-7 sum­mit in Brus­sels. “And I make no apo­lo­gies for that.”

The pub­lic is still learn­ing the de­tails of the Guantanamo Bay pris­on­er swap that brought Army Sgt. Bowe Ber­g­dahl in­to U.S. mil­it­ary hands after five years in Afgh­anistan. And no one — not even those who knew him — seems able to de­cide wheth­er Ber­g­dahl’s al­leged ac­tions be­fore he was kid­napped mat­ter in the con­text of his re­turn.

“I be­lieve that he totally deser­ted — not only his fel­low sol­diers — but his lead­er­ship that wanted the best for him and for our coun­try,” Justin Ger­leve, Ber­g­dahl’s former squad lead­er, told CNN on Wed­nes­day. But Ger­leve be­lieves the sol­dier should have been res­cued. “My opin­ion is yes; no Amer­ic­an needs to be left be­hind.”

In Wash­ing­ton, out­rage is brew­ing as Demo­crats and Re­pub­lic­an law­makers won­der why Con­gress was not con­sul­ted 30 days in ad­vance about the de­cision to free Ber­g­dahl in ex­change for five Taliban op­er­at­ives.

“We had dis­cussed with Con­gress the pos­sib­il­ity that something like this might oc­cur, but be­cause of the nature of the folks that we were deal­ing with and the fra­gile nature of these ne­go­ti­ations, we felt it was im­port­ant to go ahead and do what we did,” Obama said Thursday. “And we’re now ex­plain­ing to Con­gress the de­tails of how we moved for­ward.”

Con­gress looks pre­pared to hear them, but some are more in­ter­ested in the pres­id­ent’s role in the situ­ation. “There’s too much em­phas­is on Ber­g­dahl. That is not that im­port­ant,” Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee rank­ing mem­ber James In­hofe said Wed­nes­day after a clas­si­fied White House brief­ing on the swap. “What is im­port­ant is what the pres­id­ent did.”