President Obama made the following comments about the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl during a joint news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron in Brussels, Belgium, on June 5. Transcript courtesy of Federal News Service.
Q: Thank you, Mr. President. Have you been surprised by the backlash that's been whipped up by your decision to do a deal to free Bowe Bergdahl? And what do you think is motivating that? In retrospect, do you think you could have done more to confer with Congress or announced the deal in a way that might have spared him and his family being caught up on the political crossfire?
Prime Minister, how do you respond to criticism that your decision to meet Vladimir Putin and his meetings with other key European leaders are actually devaluing the punishment that was meted out to Russia by throwing it out of the G-8? And finally, should Qatar be deprived of the right to host the World Cup? And if so, is England willing to host it?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I'm never surprised by controversies that are whipped up in Washington, all right? That's -- that's par for the course. But I'll repeat what I said two days ago. We have a basic principle. We do not leave anybody wearing the American uniform behind. We had a prisoner of war whose health had deteriorated and we were deeply concerned about. And we saw an opportunity and we seized it. And I make no apologies for that.
We had discussed with Congress the possibility that something like this might occur. But because of the nature of the folks that we were dealing with and the fragile nature of these negotiations, we felt it was important to go ahead and do what we did. And we're now explaining to Congress the details of how we moved forward.
But this basic principle that we don't leave anybody behind and this basic recognition that often means prisoner exchanges with enemies is not unique to my administration. It dates back to the beginning of our republic, and with respect to how we announced it, I think it was important for people to understand that this is not some abstraction. This is not a political football. 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 effort to try to get them back.