Republican lawmakers took to various Sunday shows to criticize the Obama administration's decision to trade five Taliban-affiliated terrorism suspects for the release of an American prisoner of war who had been held in Afghanistan for five years.
The release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only known American prisoner of war in Afghanistan, has ignited a clash between Obama administration officials, who say that the deal to release the terror suspects was the only way to recover an American soldier being held by the enemy, and Republican lawmakers, who say that the decision flies in the face of the U.S. mantra of never negotiating with terrorists.
Several top Republicans said Saturday that they were upset that Congress was not told that the terror suspects were going to be released. Others questioned whether any negotiation at all should have been taking place.
They doubled down Sunday, telling various political show hosts that Obama mishandled Bergdahl's recovery.
Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), a leading Republican voice on foreign and veterans affairs, told CBS that "we need to know more information about the conditions" and added that it was "disturbing" that high-level Taliban members were released as part of the swap.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), told ABC's "This Week" host George Stephanopoulos that the deal was "very disturbing." From the transcript:
CRUZ: Well, look, all of us celebrate with Sergeant Bergdahl, with his family, I mean, looking at his parents there, I mean, that's emotional and it's powerful.
At the same time the terms of the deal are very troubling.
CRUZ: Well, for one thing, how many soldiers lost their lives to capture those five Taliban terrorists that we just released? You know, Ambassador Rice basically said to you, yes, U.S. policy has changed. Now we make deals with terrorists.
And the question going forward is, have we just put a price on other U.S. soldiers? What does this tell terrorists, that if you capture a U.S. soldier, you can trade that soldier for five terrorists we've gone after.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So if you...
CRUZ: I mean, that's a very dangerous price.
STEPHANOPOULOS: If you were president, you wouldn't have negotiated?
CRUZ: I do not think the way to deal with terrorists is through releasing other violent terrorists. I mean...
STEPHANOPOULOS: But what if that's the only way to get Bergdahl home?
CRUZ: It's not the only way. We can go in and use military force, as needed, to rescue our fallen compatriots. But, look, Sergeant Bergdahl was fighting to capture these terrorists.
Can you imagine what he would say to his fallen comrades who lost their lives to stop these people who were responsible, either directly or indirectly, for threatening or taking U.S. civilian lives.
I mean, that's why we sent our soldiers there. And the idea that we're now making trades, what does that do for every single soldier stationed abroad? It says the reason why the U.S. has had the policy for decades of not negotiating with terrorists is because once you start doing it, every other terrorist has an incentive to capture more soldiers.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Of course, that policy has been broken in the past. But your policy being no trades, never?
CRUZ: I think it is very disturbing that we are releasing five acknowledged terrorist Taliban leaders in a deal with terrorists. That precedent and — you know, unfortunately, George, it's part and parcel with the pattern we've seen of the Obama administration across the board.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who told CNN that this deal was a "break with U.S. policy of not negotiating with terrorists."
Over on Fox News, Liz Cheney, the daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney and a onetime Republican Senate candidate, and Evan Bayh, the former Democratic senator and governor of Indiana, disagreed on whether cutting a deal with the Taliban was the right move. From the transcript:
CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: ...I want to discuss the prisoner swap that took place last night. We got back Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl who has been held captive by the Taliban since he disappeared from his unit in 2009. In return, we handed over the so-called Taliban five who are being held at Guantanamo. They will reportedly be in the custody of the Gulf nation of Qatar for at least a year. Liz, the Taliban five, we're giving up the former army chief of staff of the Taliban. We're giving up an intelligence chief. We're giving up a military commander. Some of them wanted by the U.N. for war crimes. What do you make of this swap?
LIZ CHENEY, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: You know, it's wonderful that Bergdahl has been freed but this was a badly misguided policy step to take. You have a situation obviously, where we shouldn't be negotiating with terrorists. Secondly, clearly, there with a law violated here. There is a reason why the president was required to notify Congress 30 days before the release of terrorists from Guantanamo, and it was precisely to prevent this kind of thing from happening. Thirdly, you know, if what the president, you take him at his word in terms of the statements that he issued. And he says, you know, he hopes that this release and this trade will help Afghanis, you know, understand that we can all find common ground. Does he really believe it's possible to find common ground with the likes of these five terrorists who have just been released? And these are among the men who were most responsible for building a relationship between the Taliban and al Qaeda. So as we now completely withdraw from Afghanistan, as we take our last soldiers off the field in Afghanistan by the end of 2016, we're leaving in place a situation where you've now got some of the top most experienced, most hardened with blood of American men on their hands, Taliban leaders been released now by our president. Certainly that is not going to do anything to help the next Afghan government create the kind of stability and prevent a safe haven for al Qaeda from forming again. So, it's a bad mistake.
WALLACE: In sponsor or in defense, President Obama says that this shows America's commitment to leave no soldier behind on the battlefield. Senator Bayh? Your thoughts and your response to Liz?
EVAN BAYH, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it's hard for me to believe that anyone thinks we'd be better off if the soldier were back in captivity, which is the position you have to take if you think this shouldn't have been done. I think it's a good thing that he's home. Now the Israelis who no one would argue are soft on terrorists because they got to live with the members of Hamas that they release and so forth. To get back a single soldier, an Israeli that's held captive, they sometimes release hundreds of Palestinians. So this sort of thing is not unknown, even by countries who have very substantial security concerns. And the final thing I'd say, some people argue, Chris that this is going to give the Taliban more incentive because they've been rewarded to capture Americans. Anybody who thinks that the Taliban is not going to already capture as many American soldiers as they possibly can is being a little bit naive. So it's a tough situation. I think Liz makes some decent points. But I think it was the right thing to do.
For what it's worth, National security adviser Susan Rice and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also appeared on several shows, defending the decision and insisting that the exchange did not violate the U.S. policy of not negotiating with terrorists. Here is "Meet the Press" interview with Hagel.
And here is Rice, speaking on CNN: