President Obama acknowledged today that there’s “absolutely” the possibility of the five Taliban leaders swapped in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl returning to a life of terrorism.
“In terms of potential threats, the release of the Taliban who were being held in Guantanamo was conditioned on the Qataris keeping eyes on them and creating a structure in which we can monitor their activities. We will be keeping eyes on them. Is there the possibility of some of them trying to return to activities that are detrimental to us? Absolutely. That’s been true of all the prisoners that were released from Guantanamo,” Obama said at a joint press conference with President Bronislaw Komorowski in Poland.
“There’s a certain recidivism rate that takes place. I wouldn’t be doing it if I thought that 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 that threaten our defenses,” he added.
“But this is what happens at the end of wars. That was true for George Washington; that was true for Abraham Lincoln; that was true for FDR; that’s been true of every combat situation — that at some point, you make sure that you try to get your folks back. And that’s the right thing to do.”
When asked if Bergdahl could face disciplinary action for deserting his post, Obama quickly replied, “That’s not something that we’re discussing at this point because our main priority is making sure that the transition that he’s undergoing after five years of captivity is successful.”
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey wrote on his Facebook page, though, that disciplinary action is not out of the question.
“The questions about this particular soldier’s conduct are separate from our effort to recover ANY U.S. service member in enemy captivity. This was likely the last, best opportunity to free him,” Dempsey wrote. “As for the circumstances of his capture, when he is able to provide them, we’ll learn the facts. Like any American, he is innocent until proven guilty. Our Army’s leaders will not look away from misconduct if it occurred.”
Obama said his administration “consulted with Congress for quite some time about the possibility that we might need to execute a prisoner exchange in order to recover Sergeant Bergdahl.”
Opposition to the idea of a deal floated months ago came from both sides of the aisle, as well as from then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who said the security assurances surrounding the released Taliban would be inadequate.
“We were concerned about Sergeant Bergdahl’s health. We had the cooperation of the Qataris to execute an exchange, and we seized that opportunity. And the process was truncated because we wanted to make sure that we did not miss that window,” Obama added of the requirement by law to give Congress 30 days’ notice of a Guantanamo release.
“With respect to the circumstances of Sergeant Bergdahl’s capture by the Taliban, we obviously have not been interrogating Sergeant Bergdahl. He is recovering from five years of captivity with the Taliban. He’s having to undergo a whole battery of tests, and he is going to have to undergo a significant transition back into life. He has not even met with his family yet, which indicates I think the degree to which we take this transition process seriously — something that we learned from the Vietnam era,” the president continued.
“But let me just make a very simple point here, and that is, 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. Period. Full stop. We don’t condition that. And 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.”