Bowe Bergdahl's release bumps VA scandal from political spotlight
By Kevin Cirilli - 06/01/14 02:26 PM EDT
The Taliban’s release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl dominated the Sunday talk shows, pushing Friday’s resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki from the headlines.
The Sunday shows were packed with Republicans launching into political attacks against President Obama and the administration for transferring five Taliban members from Guantanamo Bay to Qatar in exchange for the release of Bergdahl, the 28-year-old whom the Taliban released on Saturday, and administration officials defending the decision.
"Disturbing," was how Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) put it on ABC's "This Week."
"Dangerous," echoed House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) on CNN's "State of The Union."
"We need more information about the conditions of where they're going to be and how," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on CBS's "Face The Nation."
Administration officials hit back hard against the insinuation that Obama negotiated with terrorists and broke the law requiring him to notify Congress 30 days before the release or transfer of Guantanamo Bay prisoners.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice in separate Sunday show interviews said that Obama acted within his constitutional authority as commander in chief, forced to act against non-state actors as Bergdahl's health was deteriorating.
“We didn’t negotiate with terrorists,” Hagel said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Sgt. Bergdahl is a prisoner of war, that’s a normal process in getting your prisoners back... We don’t let anyone out of Guantanamo, and I will not sign off on any detainee coming out of Guantanamo unless I am assured…that we can efficiently mitigate any risk to American security."
Rice said on CNN's "State of the Union" that Defense Department officials consulted with the Department of Justice officials prior to the transfers.
"Given the acute urgency of the health condition of Sgt. Bergdahl and given the president's constitutional responsibilities, it was determined that it was necessary and appropriate not to adhere to the 30-day notification requirements because it would have potentially meant that the opportunity to get Sgt. Bergdahl would have been lost," Rice said on CNN.
Saturday Obama announced that the Taliban released Bergdahl, who had been held for nearly five years by the Taliban after being captured in Afghanistan. Then came multiple reports that U.S. officials released five Taliban members from Guantanamo Bay. Those members are: Khair Ulla Said Wali Khairkhwa, Mullah Mohammad Fazl, Mullah Norullah Nori, Abdul Haq Wasiq and Mohammad Nabi Omari, according to multiple reports.
McCain said that while the administration had previously told Congress about the possibility of transferring the Taliban members for the release of Bergdahl, such a plan received "bipartisan opposition."
"There was discussions that I heard way back as far back as two years ago to release these people," McCain said on CBS. "There was a bipartisan opposition to that. But obviously, what's done is done."
Republicans argued that terrorists would be more inclined to kidnap U.S. soldiers in order to hold them ransom, and that the administration's latest tactic could put America's troops and its allies in danger.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) dismissed the GOP attacks as nothing more than politics.
"We save an American life on foreign soil, the president gets criticized. We lose American lives on foreign soil, the president gets criticized,” she said on Fox's "Fox News Sunday." “Are you seeing a theme here? It’s politics.”
But the questions surrounding the transfer could prove a political headache for the administration in the coming days. Republicans have sought to criticize the administration's foreign policy as ineffective and weak.
Meanwhile, administration officials dodged questions about whether Bergdahl deserted the military and his capture more than five years ago.
Some critics allege that Bergdahl walked off his base in Eastern Afghanistan in 2007.
ABC News "This Week" host George Stephanopoulos asked Rice whether such allegations would be "investigated."
"If it is found that he did, will he be disciplined or has he already paid the price?" Stephanopoulos asked.
"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," Rice said.
"The point is he's back. He's going to be safely reunited with his family. He served the United States with honor and distinction."
"We'll have the opportunity to learn eventually what happened in the past years,” she added. “But what's most important now is his health and well-being and that he have the opportunity to recover in peace and security and be reunited with his family which is why this is such a joyous day."
On NBC, Hagel echoed similar themes.
“I'm not surprised that there are still questions, and until we get the facts exactly what the condition of Sergeant Bergdahl is, we can't go much further in speculating,” Hagel said.
“But, you know, this is a guy who probably went through hell the last five years and let's focus on getting him well and getting him back with his family.”
Bergdahl has yet to be reunited with his parents, Bob and Jani Bergdahl, who stood behind Obama during a Rose Garden address Saturday during which the president discussed the incident.
Bergdahl’s father, Bob Bergdahl, said on Sunday that there were “too many people to thank” for his son’s release.
Bob Bergdahl said Bowe should listen to the “devoted team” that’s working with him in Germany.
“Listen to their instructions. Listen to them. They are hand-picked people,” Bob Bergdahl said.
“They are here to help you.”
--This report was updated at 3:33 p.m.