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Obama stands behind Bergdahl swap despite questions surrounding capture

June 3, 2014 at 6:07 PM EDT
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JUDY WOODRUFF: There were more developments today in the controversy over the agreement which won freedom for an American prisoner of war, including an apology from the White House.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The United States has always had a pretty sacred rule, and that is, we don’t leave our men or women in uniform behind.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The debate over the deal to free Sergeant Bergdahl followed President Obama to Warsaw, Poland today. At a news conference with the Polish president, he defended the prisoner swap with the Taliban, and he said Bergdahl has not yet been questioned about his disappearance in 2009.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: 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 a war theater should expect from, not just their commander in chief, but the United States of America.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Early in his captivity, Bergdahl said, in a Taliban video, that he’d been taken prisoner while lagging behind a patrol. But since his release on Saturday, soldiers who served with him in Afghanistan have challenged his account.

FMR. ARMY SGT. EVAN BUETOW, Bergdahl’s Team Leader: He walked away. He walked right off the base. The fact of the matter is, is, he deserted us, in the middle of Afghanistan, to go and find the Taliban.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Among the latest is former Army Sergeant Evan Buetow, Bergdahl’s team leader in Afghanistan.

FMR. ARMY SGT. EVAN BUETOW: People calling him a hero and people calling him this great soldier, I mean, it’s a spit in the face to, one, all the soldiers who were there, and, more importantly, it’s a spit in the face to the soldiers who died as a direct result to him leaving.

JUDY WOODRUFF: According to the Associated Press, the Pentagon concluded in 2010 that Bergdahl walked away of his own accord, and it called off further rescue efforts.

Today, on his Facebook page, Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, left open the possibility that Bergdahl may be charged with desertion.

He wrote — quote — “When he is able to provide them, we will learn the facts. Like any American, he is innocent until proven guilty.”

But Dempsey added: “Our Army’s leaders will not look away from this conduct if it occurred.”

Questions also continued about the five Taliban leaders long held at Guantanamo Bay and flown to Qatar in exchange for Bergdahl’s release. The Reuters News Service reported they have been moved to a residential compound and it said they are free to move about the country. President Obama acknowledged today that some of them may try to return to the fight in Afghanistan, but he said:

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: 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.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The president has also taken heat for not telling Congress the Saturday swap was coming. This afternoon, Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken apologized to Senators Dianne Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss, the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, for the lack of notification.

Earlier, Mr. Obama said his administration did discuss a possible Bergdahl deal with Congress in the past. But Chambliss complained today that was a long time ago.

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS, R, Ga.: I hadn’t had a conversation with the White House on this issue in a year-and-a-half, and if that is keeping us in the loop, then this administration is more arrogant than I thought they were.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In a statement, House Speaker John Boehner said top lawmakers were briefed more than two years ago. He said they raised serious concerns that were never properly addressed.

Bergdahl, meanwhile, spent a third full day at the U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany. Officials said he’s undergoing debriefing and reintegration.