Sunday, June 1, 2014
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, HOST: America’s last prisoner of war is heading home. Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl landing in Germany this morning, his first full day of freedom after nearly five years in captivity…
Lots of questions this morning about the secret deal that secured his release and the price America paid…
Let’s bring those questions to the president’s national security adviser Susan Rice. Thank you for joining us this morning.
Let’s begin with how Bowe Bergdahl is doing right now. We know he’s landed in Germany. What more can you tell us about how he’s doing, his health?
SUSAN RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, George, first of all, this is a joyous day. The fact that he is now safely in American hands and will be reunited with his family and his community is incredible.
He’s now in Landstuhl hospital in Germany. He’s going through all of the requisite evaluations and care. And he is said to be walking and in good physical condition. And we look forward to the days to come in which we’ll have an even better sense of how he’s doing and we look forward to when he can return to the United States, continue his rehabilitation and be reunited with his family.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Have we been able to learn anything yet about his years in captivity?
RICE: It’s too soon, George. You know, there’s a very refined and precise protocol for how we treat and support prisoners of war who have just been released. He’s going through this process of being supported and cared for and evaluated, but it’s way too soon to get into the details of what transpired during his captivity.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Is it true, though, that he’s having trouble speaking English?
RICE: George, I think his father mentioned that yesterday. But I think we ought to wait. It’s really been barely 24 hours since he’s been back in American hands. We need to see how he does — as he goes through this evaluation.
But our primary interest is in his health and well being and his full recovery and the opportunity for him to be reunited with his parents whom I had the privilege to meet yesterday.
They are overjoyed as any of us would be as parents, and all of us are as Americans, because finally after almost five years he’ll be home.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And this has been an almost five year effort to bring him home. The U.S. has gotten close before. What made the difference this time?
RICE: Well, George, things have come together. I mean, this has been something that the United States, that we’ve been committed to, getting him back, as we’re committed to bringing every American taken on the battlefield back. And we never leave them behind. But this has been a process that has extended off and on over a period of almost three years.
Toward the end of last year, we had some indications that it might be possible to return Bowe Bergdahl. Those discussions mediated by the government of Qatar really came to fruition over the course of the last week. But it really wasn’t until yesterday morning just before 10:30 eastern time that we knew for sure that he was back safely in American hands.
STEPHANOPOULOS: As you’ve seen, the criticism is already coming in. Martha Raddatz mentioned some of it from Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House intelligence committee. We also have the top Republicans on the armed services committee saying this is going to put Americans at risk, threaten American lives, because you broke the policy of trading with terrorists.
What’s your reaction to that?
RICE: Well, George, this is a very special situation. Sergeant Bergdahl wasn’t simply a hostage, he was an American prisoner of war, captured on the battlefield. We have a sacred obligation that we have upheld since the founding of our Republic to do our utmost to bring back our men and women who were taken in battle. And we did that in this instance.
If for some reason we took a position now in the 21st Century when some of our adversaries may not be traditional state actors, that we would not do our utmost to bring our prisoners of war home, that would break faith with the American people and with the men and women who serve in uniform.
So regardless of who may be holding an American prisoner of war, we must do our best to bring him or her back.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Also, questions about whether the president violated the law, that charge has come from congress as well, that he was supposed to notify members of congress before the transfer of any GITMO detainees.
RICE: Well, George, in fact what we had to do and what we did do, consistent with the president’s constitutional authority as commander in chief, is prioritize the health of Sergeant Bergdahl. We had reason to be concerned that this was an urgent and an acute situation, that his life could have been at risk. We did not have 30 days to wait. And had we waited and lost him, I don’t think anybody would have forgiven the United States government.
We have in the past had extensive consultations with congress. They were well aware that this idea and this prospect was one that the administration was seriously considering, but when it came to fruition, the Department of Defense, in consultation with the Department of Justice, determined that it was both appropriate and necessary for us to proceed in an expedited fashion, and that’s what the president decided to do. And as a consequence, we have Bowe Bergdahl back.
STEPHANOPOULOS: These detainees being sent back to Qatar, they’re fairly high level Taliban detainees. We know that they’re going to be — have to stay in Qatar for at least a year.
The question, though, is, the law requires assurances that they’re not going to be able to return to the battlefield. Senator Saxby Chambliss is saying those assurances so far are feeble. What assurances do you have?
RICE: Well, the law says that we need to have sufficient confidence that the risk can be substantially mitigated. And we do have those — we do have that confidence based on a detailed understanding with the government of Qatar based on President Obama’s personal communication with the emir of Qatar on Tuesday when it looked like this possibility might be imminent.
And those assurances relating to the movement, the activities, the monitoring of those detainees give us confidence that they cannot and, in all likelihood, will not pose a significant risk to the United States.
And that it is in our national interests that this transfer has been made.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But what are those assurances and what happens after a year? In the past we have seen high-level Taliban who have been released go back to the battlefield
RICE: Well, George, I can’t get into the specifics of the understandings, but they relate to restrictions on travel, movement, and the activities of the individuals who will be in Qatari care.
But those assurances, I can tell you, are such that we are confident that risk has been substantially mitigated, and that this is, in fact, consistent with the national security interests of the United States.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Is this an opening for broader peace talks?
RICE: That remains to be seen. I mean, obviously this engagement indirectly through the Qataris with the Taliban was for the specific purpose of releasing Bowe Bergdahl.
But we have long said and long hoped that there could be Afghan-led reconciliation between the government of Afghanistan and its opponents, including the Taliban.
So if this exchange opens that door a little bit, then we would welcome it. And we would certainly hope that in any event that the reconciliation, which we have all long said is essential, can proceed.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, on this point, Sergeant Bergdahl, there are a lot of questions about how he originally was captured and whether or not he had deserted, had left his post.
Is that going to be investigated? And if it’s found that he did, indeed, leave his post, will he be disciplined or has he already paid the price?
RICE: 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. The point is that he is back.
He is going to be safely reunited with his family. He served the United States with honor and distinction. And we’ll have the opportunity eventually to learn what has transpired in the past years.
But what is most important now is his health and well-being, 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.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, we’re about to hear from Senator Ted Cruz. And the president, of course, laid out his foreign policy vision this week at West Point. Senator Cruz has criticized the administration, saying that it has been far too willing to abandon and alienate our allies, and far too willing to appease and demonstrate weakness to those who would do us harm.
RICE: George, the United States is the leading power on the world stage. We are recognized by everybody as such. Our military has no peer. Our economy is the strongest. We have extraordinary human and natural resources.
We’re reaching energy independence. We have the greatest network of alliances and friendships of any country around the world. And we are leading in a fashion that is redounding to the national security benefit of the United States.
It’s only the United States that can rally partners and allies to pressure a country, for example, like Iran, and bring it to the negotiating table so that we have at least the potential for a comprehensive nuclear deal that would take forever nuclear weapons off the table in Iran.
The United States, working with our European partners, has rallied to isolate and pressure Russia for its activities in Ukraine. That’s the kind of leadership that only the world’s greatest power can bring to bear.
I can’t speak for Ted Cruz and what his particular perspective might be, but I can tell you when we go to Europe next week, as we will again for the second time this year, and we went to Asia back in April, that all of our allies and partners looked to us as their indispensable leader, and want to work and coordinate with us closely because they know their security, our shared values, and our future depend on it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Ambassador Rice, thanks very much for your time this morning.
RICE: Thanks, George.
art courtesy of
Old Timer Chronicle