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Kerry says exchanged Taliban fighters could re-enter terror war — at ‘enormous risk’

- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Obama administration's prisoner swap came under bipartisan fire Sunday as Secretary of State John Kerry tried to ease concerns by insisting that the Taliban prisoners face "enormous risk" if they reenter the battlefield.

"I am not telling you that they don't have some ability at some point to go back and get involved," said Mr. Kerry on CNN's "State of the Union." "But they also have an ability to get killed doing that. And I don't think anybody should doubt the capacity of the United States of America to protect Americans."

But Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein said it was impossible not to worry about the five Taliban detainees, who were transferred from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Doha, Qatar, in exchange for a captured soldier, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

"I heard John Kerry this morning say, 'You know, don't worry about them in Doha'—you can't help but worry about them in Doha," said Ms. Feinstein on CBS's "Face the Nation." "We have no information on how the United States is actually going to see that they remain in Doha, that they make no comments, that they do no agitation. And another rumor is that one Taliban has said that he would return to the battlefield."

She called the May 31 deal a "mixed bag at best," while House Intelligence Committee chair Mike Rogers described the exchange as a "serious, serious geopolitical mistake."

""This is a huge regional and geopolitical problem for the United States moving forward," said Mr. Rogers on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos." "Hostages are now currency in this war on terror. That's always dangerous for both diplomats, aid workers, soldiers on the battlefield."

He predicted the Taliban detainees would be back on the battlefield in 51 weeks. The prisoners are slated to spend the next year in Qatar, and will be permitted to travel within but not leave the country.

Members of Congress were also rankled by the Obama administration's secretive approach to the prisoner exchange, which was approved without congressional consultation.

"I think this whole sort of deal has been one that the administration has kept very close, and in the eyes of many of us, too close," said Ms. Feinstein.

Ms. Feinstein and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the Senate Intelligence Committee's ranking Republican, both said they had heard "rumors" but received no information from the White House about media reports that Sgt. Bergdahl was tortured after attempting to escape.

"With respect to escape, no information but rumors," said Ms. Feinstein. "With respect to being tortured, this is the first I've heard of that."

Sgt. Bergdahl, who is receiving medical treatment in Germany, reportedly told medical personnel that he was tortured and kept in a cage after a failed escape effort.

"Nobody has made any effort to contact me from the administration," said Mr. Chambliss on "Face the Nation," adding, "This administration has acted strangely about this, and it's kind of puzzling as to why they did not let us know in advance that this was going to happen."

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said that 30 percent of prisoners released from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay have reengaged in the fighting in Afghanistan.

"Thirty percent of those who have been released from Guantanamo have reentered the fight, and we certainly haven't been able to kill all of them," said Mr. McCain on CNN's "State of the Union." "So what we're doing here is reconstituting the Taliban government, the same guys that are mass murderers."

A former prisoner of war in Vietnam, Mr. McCain said he agreed that the nation has the duty to try and secure the release of soldiers captured by the enemy, but not at any cost. Six U.S. soldiers were reportedly killed trying to rescue Sgt. Bergdahl.

"We have the obligation to do whatever we can to bring any of our captured servicemen and women back but the question is, at what cost," said Mr. McCain. "Whether it would put the lives of other American me and women who are serving in danger, and in my view, clearly this would."

Mr. Kerry said it would be "offensive and incomprehensible" to leave behind a prisoner of war, "no matter what."

"What I know today is what the President of the United States knows: That it would have been offensive and incomprehensible to consciously leave an American behind, no matter what, to leave an American behind in the hands of people who would torture him, cut off his head, do any number of things, and we would consciously choose to do that?" said Mr. Kerry. "That's the other side of this equation."

Mr. McCain, who was tortured and beaten during his six years as a prisoner of war, said he would have supported a prisoner swap for different prisoners, but not for the five Taliban leaders released to Qatar, whom he described as "the hardest of the hardcore."

"They were evaluated and judged [at Guantanamo] as too great a risk to release," said Mr. McCain. "That was the judgment made about them, not by me, but by the people who evaluate these people. So they were judged too great a risk, they're committed to returning to the fight, they're in Qatar for only one year, they're the leadership. Mullah [Mohammed] Omar just got his cabinet back."

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