Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said the U.S. did not negotiate with terrorists in the process of exchanging the transfer of five terrorism suspects for the release of the only American prisoner of war in Afghanistan.
“We didn’t negotiate with terrorists,” Mr. Hagel said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “And I said and explained before, Sergeant Bergdahl is a prisoner of war. That’s a normal process in getting your prisoners back.”
Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was handed over to U.S. special forces by the Taliban Saturday, with the government of Qatar serving as a go-between. Qatar is taking custody of five Afghan detainees from the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Mr. Hagel said the U.S. is dealing with terrorists and hostage taking all the time and that the release wouldn’t encourage terrorists to take American soldiers prisoner or hostage.
Army Sgt. Bergdahl was captured under unknown circumstances in eastern Afghanistan on June 30, 2009, about two months after arriving in the country.
“As far as we know, he was not held with any other Americans or any English-speaking people,” Mr. Hagel said. “We don’t know that yet. I’m not surprised that there are still questions, and until we get the facts exactly what the condition of Sergeant Bergdahl is, we can’t go much further in speculating.”
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Mr. Hagel acknowledged that the defense secretary must give at least 30 days of notice for such prison transfers but that officials moved under the timeline they did in order to save Sgt. Bergdahl’s life.
“We had information that his health could be deteriorating rapidly,” he said. “There was a question about his safety. We found an opportunity. We took that opportunity. I’ll stand by that decision. I signed off on the decision. The president made the ultimate decision. We did spend time looking at this.”
Mr. Hagel added that he will not sign off on any detainee coming out of Guantanamo unless the country can be assured “that we can sufficiently mitigate any risk to America’s security.”