Obama defends Taliban prisoner swap
June 5, 2014, 12:00 am TWN
WASHINGTON/WARSAW--U.S. President Barack Obama Tuesday defended a prisoner swap with the Taliban to free an American soldier, saying his "sacred" trust as commander-in-chief outweighed claims he broke the law and set a dangerous precedent.
Obama is facing rising questions about the deal to secure the release of U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl after five years, in return for the transfer of five Taliban prisoners from the "war on terror" prison at Guantanamo Bay.
At a press conference in Poland, Obama was unrepentant, as the White House issued a new legal justification for his action.
"The United States has always had a pretty sacred rule. That is we don't leave our men or women in uniform behind," Obama said.
"We saw an opportunity, we were concerned about Sergeant Bergdahl's health ... and we seized that opportunity," Obama said.
The president's decision to sign off on the swap has also been criticized because of reports that Bergdahl deserted his post in Afghanistan nearly five years ago.
Obama said Bergdahl's state of health had not yet permitted an interrogation about his capture — but said the mystery of his disappearance didn't change his own basic obligation as commander-in-chief.
"We still get an American soldier back if he is held in captivity. Period. Full stop. We don't condition that."
Lawmakers have complained that they were not given the 30 days notice required by law ahead of prisoners being transferred out of the war on terror camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"The process was truncated because we wanted to make sure that we did not miss that window," Obama said.
But he added that his administration had been talking with Congress "for quite some time" about the idea that a prisoner swap may be required to win Bergdahl's release.
White House Says Sorry
On Tuesday it was announced that the White House had apologized for keeping lawmakers in the dark regarding the swap.
Amid growing concern among Republicans and Democrats, Senate Intelligence Committee chair Diane Feinstein voiced her disappointment at not having been told about the deal in advance.
She said National Deputy Security Advisor Tony Blinken had called her Monday night.