Kerry pushes back on prisoner swap criticism

  • Article by: DAVID LERMAN , Bloomberg News
  • Updated: June 8, 2014 - 9:01 PM

Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Lebanese parliament speaker Nabih Berri in Beirut, Wednesday, June 4, 2014. The political stalemate that has left Lebanon without a president at a turbulent time in the region is "deeply troubling," Kerry said Wednesday. He also announced new aid to cope with the Syrian refugee crisis that has spilled over into its besieged neighbor. (AP Photo/Mohamed Azakir, Pool)

– U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday that threats by the five freed Taliban prisoners swapped for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl to return to war and kill Americans are “a lot of baloney.”

Defending the swap that secured the release of the last U.S. prisoner of war in Afghanistan, Kerry said the movements of the five Taliban prisoners released to Qatar will be closely ­monitored.

“No one should doubt the capacity of America to protect Americans,” Kerry said from France in a taped interview for CNN’s “State of the Union” program.

Bergdahl, held captive for nearly five years, was released May 31 in exchange for five Taliban prisoners held by the U.S. at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp. The deal requires that the five men remain in Qatar for at least a year.

“They’re not the only ones keeping an eye on them,” Kerry said of the Qataris, while declining to elaborate.

“We have proved what we are capable of doing with Al-Qaida,” he said.

The threats by the Taliban prisoners to resume fighting in Afghanistan and kill Americans amount to propaganda, Kerry said. “They’ll say whatever they want to stir the waters,” he said.

With the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan coming to an end and most troops to be withdrawn by the end of 2016, opportunities for the Taliban to kidnap Americans will ­dwindle, Kerry said.

Whether or not Bergdahl deserted his post in eastern Afghanistan, as some of his former fellow soldiers claim, “it would have been offensive and incomprehensible to consciously leave an American behind,” Kerry said.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and a former Vietnam prisoner of war, criticized the deal on the same program. The five Taliban prisoners “were evaluated and judged as too great a risk to release,” McCain said.

Lawmakers of both parties have faulted President Obama’s administration for failing to notify and consult them about the prisoner exchange in advance.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, echoed that concern Sunday as she questioned Kerry’s assertion that the freed Taliban members would be carefully monitored.

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  • FILE - In this file image taken from video obtained from Voice Of Jihad Website, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, sits in a vehicle guarded by the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan. Bergdahl was freed by the Taliban on May 31, 2014, in exchange for five Afghan detainees held in the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Two American values, never leave a man behind and never negotiate with terrorists, collided in the Bergdahl calamity with each ethos running deep in the American conscience. (AP Photo/Voice Of Jihad Website via AP...

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