President Barack Obama on Thursday defended his administration’s handling of the prisoner exchange with the Taliban, saying he makes “absolutely no apologies for making sure that we get back a young man to his parents.”
The decision to swap five Guantanamo detainees for captured U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has touched off a firestorm on Capitol Hill, but Obama said it was the right move.
“We had a prisoner of war who's health had deteriorated, and we were deeply concerned about and we saw an opportunity and we seized it,” Obama said at a press conference in Belgium with British Prime Minister David Cameron. “I make no apologies for that.”
Some members of Congress are angry that the administration didn’t alert them and fellow service members have called Bergdahl a deserter. Obama, however, said he’s unmoved by the debate.
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“I'm never surprised by controversies that are whipped up in Washington,” he said. “That's par for the course.”
Obama said his administration “had discussed with Congress the possibility that something like this might occur.” And he repeated his contention from Tuesday that the U.S. does not “leave anybody wearing the American uniform behind.”
He said the decision was made to go ahead without official congressional notification “because of the nature of the folks that we were dealing with and the fragile nature of these negotiations.”
He said officials are now explaining to Congress the details of how it acted.
“But this basic principle that we don't leave anybody behind and this basic recognition that that often means prisoner exchanges with enemies is not unique to my administration,” he said. “It dates back to the beginning of our republic.”
Some critics have faulted Obama for appearing in the Rose Garden at the White House with Bergdahl’s parents, but Obama said “it was important for people to understand that this is not some abstraction.
“This is not a political football,” he said. “You have a couple of parents whose kid volunteered to fight in a distant land, who they hadn't seen in five years and weren't sure whether they'd ever see again. And as commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces, I am responsible for those kids. And I get letters from parents who say, if you are, in fact, sending my child into war, make sure that that child is being taken care of. And I write too many letters to folks who, unfortunately, don't see their children again after fighting a war.”
“I make absolutely no apologies for making sure that we get back a young man to his parents and that the American people understand that this is somebody's child, and that we don't condition whether or not we make the efforts to try to get them back.