June 1st, 2014

Rice: “This was the right thing to do” on CNN’s State of the Union

Today on CNN’s State of the Union with Candy Crowley, White House National Security Advisor Susan Rice spoke to Crowley about bringing Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl home—whether or not the U.S. negotiated with terrorists, why Congress was not notified prior to the operation, and the release of detainees from Guantanamo Bay. Additionally, Rice also spoke to Crowley about Benghazi.

On if the U.S. negotiated with terrorists to rescue Sergeant Bergdahl, Rice said, “When we are in battles with terrorists and the terrorists take an American prisoner, that prisoner still is a U.S. servicemen or woman.  We still have a sacred obligation to bring that person back.”

Video clips and a transcript of the interview are available after the jump.


Why wasn’t congress notified?

Negotiating the release of Bowe Bergdahl




CANDY CROWLEY, HOST:  Good morning from Washington.

I’m Candy Crowley.

U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl has arrived at Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany, while the Taliban prisoners exchanged for his release are reportedly on the ground in Qatar.

These WikiLeaks photos match the names released by the Department of Defense, but the Department would neither confirm nor deny those ac — the accuracy of the photos.

Joining me now is National Security Adviser Susan Rice.

It’s great to see you again.


CROWLEY:  Walk me through when you first knew you had a deal.

RICE:  Well, Candy, this evolved over a period of time, in fact, going back some years, we have had intermittent conversations through the government of Qatar about, uh, trying to obtain the release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.

CROWLEY:  Right.

RICE:  It was an extraordinary day yesterday and extraordinary day for America because a member of our armed forces who had been in captivity almost five years will now be reunited with his mother and father, whom we had the opportunity to see yesterday and who are over the moon.


RICE:  So it began over a period of — of months, back in — this latest round began back in the end of last year when we had the opportunity…

CROWLEY:  The negotiations did.

RICE:  Yes.  When we…

CROWLEY:  When did you learn — when did they say, it’s a deal, go get him?

RICE:  Well, the — over the last several days, during the course of this week, we saw it coming together.  But it wasn’t done until it was done.  And it wasn’t until a little before 10:30 in the morning yesterday that we had confirmation that he was safely in U.S. custody.

CROWLEY:  When the — the U.S. Special Forces went in to get him?

RICE:  Yes.  Yes.

CROWLEY:  Point blank, did the U.S. negotiate with terrorists for his release?

RICE:  Candy, what we did was ensure that, as always, the United States doesn’t leave a man or a woman on the battlefield.


RICE:  And in order to do this…

CROWLEY:  Right.

RICE:  — it’s very important for folks to understand, if we got into a situation where we said, you know, because of who has captured an American soldier on the battlefield, we will leave that person behind, we would be in a whole new era for the safety of our personnel and for the nature of our commitment to our men and women in uniform.


RICE:  So because it was the Taliban that had him did not mean that we had any less of an obligation to bring him back.

CROWLEY:  Right.  I mean, in fact, it was the Haqqani Network, which really is listed as a terrorist, and this is not a — a judgment question, it’s just a question, uh, you had to negotiate with terrorists to secure the release of the sergeant?

RICE:  We actually negotiated with the government of Qatar…


RICE:  — to whom we owe a great debt.

CROWLEY:  Right.

RICE:  But the point is, he was being held by the Taliban.  We had the opportunity to bring him back.  He’s back safely in the hands of the United States and — and that’s a great thing.

CROWLEY:  Yes.  And I don’t think anyone argues with that.  I think the question now is — and you put to the kinds of warfare we’re having now — that no longer can it be said that the U.S. doesn’t negotiate with terrorists.

RICE:  I wouldn’t put it that way, Candy.  I wouldn’t say that at all…

CROWLEY:  How would you put it?

RICE:  Well, I — when we are in battles with terrorists and the terrorists take an American prisoner, that prisoner still is a U.S. servicemen or woman.  We still have a sacred obligation to bring that person back.

We did so and — and that’s what’s to be celebrated.

CROWLEY:  Was there a particular reason why — why now?

Was it simply because you got the deal, as Secretary Hagel alluded to, health problems of his — that — that Bergdahl’s life was in jeopardy?

Was there some heightened feeling about this or why now?

RICE:  Well, certainly after almost five years in captivity, our concern was increasing with every passing day.  But we also had indications that, indeed, he — his health was growing more fragile.  He had lost a — a good bit of weight.  And we were very concerned that time was not a — something we could play with, that we needed to act when we had the opportunity.  And that’s what we did.

CROWLEY:  Why didn’t you notify his parents?

RICE:  For that very reason, Candy.

First of all, this opportunity is one…

CROWLEY:  Which, under the law, you (INAUDIBLE)…

RICE:  This…

CROWLEY:  — it says you should.

RICE:  — this opportunity is one that has been briefed to Congress when we had past potential to have this kind of arrangement.  So it wasn’t unknown to Congress.

The Department of Defense consulted with the Department of Justice.  And given the acute urgency of the — the health condition of Sergeant — Sergeant Bergdahl and given the president’s constitutional responsibilities, it was determined that it was necessary and appropriate not to adhere to the 30 day notification requirement, because it would have potentially meant that the opportunity to get Sergeant Bergdahl would have been lost and — and, therefore…

CROWLEY:  Well, why not…

RICE:  — it might have been (INAUDIBLE)…

CROWLEY:  — is there no one in Congress you can trust with the information to call up the chairman of the Intelligence Committees or the chairwoman on the Senate side and say, I want you to know this is happening, we have to act now?

RICE:  Well, we did do that.  In fact, we had briefed Congress in the past about this potential.

CROWLEY:  In the past.  But when you knew…

RICE:  And when…

CROWLEY:  — you were going?

RICE:  — and when we — when the deal was done and Sergeant Bergdahl was in U.S. custody is when we began making notifications to Congress.

CROWLEY:  But the deal had already been made and the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay were already en route to a plane to go to (INAUDIBLE)…

RICE:  No, actually, Congress began to be notified when Sergeant Bergdahl was in American hands, which was actually before the prisoners had left Guantanamo.

CROWLEY:  But not telling a couple of folks up on Capitol Hill, might that, in hindsight, not have been a good idea?

RICE:  Candy, what was put the — the highest premium on was the safety of Sergeant Bergdahl.  This was very held closely within the administration.  We could not take any risks with this — losing the opportunity to bring him back safely.

CROWLEY:  Did you — so there — there was a conscious decision to break the law as you know it, dealing with the detainees and the release of them?

RICE:  Candy, no.  As I said earlier, the Department of Defense consulted with the Department of Justice and it is our view that it was appropriate and necessary to do this in order to bring Sergeant Bergdahl back safely.

CROWLEY:  Talk to me about these detainees.  A couple of them very high level interest from the US.  Senator McCain has said these particular individuals are hardened terrorists who have the blood of Americans and countless Afghans on their hands.

under what conditions did you release them to the government of Qatar?

Are they current being detained in a place?

Are they free to walk around Qatar?

In what conditions are they over there?

RICE:  Well, Candy, we had a — a series of very specific assurances given to the United States by the government of Qatar.  President Obama spoke to the emir of Qatar on Tuesday, when this looked like it was a real possibility, and those assurances were repeated directly and personally by the emir to the president.  They had — and they had enabled us to have confidence that the Taliban prisoners would be…

CROWLEY:  What gave you confidence?

RICE:  — they enabled us to have confidence that these prisoners will be carefully watched, that their ability to move will be constrained.  And we believe that a — that this is in the national security interests of the United States.

CROWLEY:  So beyond not being able to leave Qatar for a year, one of the conditions we know about, are they free to be in the country, free to communicate with whoever they want?

Or are they in detention in Qatar?

RICE:  There are restrictions on their movement and behavior.  I’m not at liberty to get into detail about the precise nature of those restrictions.  But suffice it to say that we are satisfied that that substantially mitigates the risk to the United States and to our national security and we feel confident that the assurances given to us will be upheld.

CROWLEY:  And in — in the end, when you were having these discussions amongst yourselves, did you worry that this deal would encourage other terrorist organizations, like the Haqqani Network, to seize Americans, be they military or civilian Americans, in order to get more folks released from Guantanamo Bay?

RICE:  No, Candy, the fact of the matter is, Sergeant Bergdahl is the last of the Americans that have been held in — in Afghanistan…


RICE:  And we felt that as the war is winding down, it was our sacred obligation, given the opportunity, to get him back, that we do so.  And we did so in a way that has brought him back safely into American hands.  We did so in a way that resulted in the Taliban prisoners being monitored and — and — and kept in a secure…

CROWLEY:  Right.

RICE:  — way in Qatar…

CROWLEY:  — but the question is…

RICE:  I understand the question…


RICE:  But you asked if I were…

CROWLEY:  Right.

RICE:  — and I am telling you that we prioritized, as we always have, bringing back our men and women from the battlefield, to the greatest extent we can.  This was the right thing to do and we feel that it will, in fact, enhance not only Sergeant Bergdahl’s life, but, in fact our — our larger security.

CROWLEY:  And so that any terrorist group or terrorist out there who says, you know what, we’ve got X, Y and Z sitting in Guantanamo Bay, we have U.S. troops in many, many places, if we grab one of them, we can work a deal with the U.S. government, what’s your message…


CROWLEY:  — to them?

RICE:  — I think the terrorists are intent on — on doing what they’re going to do.  But, Candy, we have a commitment to close Guantanamo Bay.  The president has been very clear about that.  The existence of Guantanamo Bay is, itself, a detriment to our national security, which is why the president has prioritized closing it and why we intend to get that done.

CROWLEY:  And, finally, I have to ask, before you leave, as you know, there is a new committee that’s going to look into Benghazi.  I know you have said my interest in Benghazi now is making sure that everywhere is more — is more safe for our diplomats.

Looking back to those talking points on the Sunday talk shows that have been so much discussed, were you ever angry that you were not given full information or that someone didn’t check back?

Did it ever — I mean did you ever feel like you were put out there with bad information?

RICE:  Candy, no.  We’ve been through all of this.  And — and I’ve had the opportunity to discuss this at great length.

The fact of the matter is, I am — I’m not serving as the president’s national security adviser.  I have all of the issues, as you can imagine, that are on the world stage on our plate.

My premium responsibility and sole interest, and that of the president, is ensuring that Americans around the world who are serving in dangerous places are safe.

CROWLEY:  Right.

RICE:  And we have embassies, we have diplomats, we have service men and women, as we’ve just been discussing, who are doing the business of the United States at great risk.

And my hope is that Congress will focus on how we can ensure that we have the resources and ability to keep them safe…

CROWLEY:  Is that…

RICE:  — going forward.

CROWLEY:  — (INAUDIBLE) testify?

RICE:  I’m not going to speculate on — on something that hasn’t happened or what Congress might do or not do.  I’m focused every day, Candy, on doing my job on behalf of the American people and trying to keep our people safe.

CROWLEY:  The president’s national security adviser, Susan Rice.

It’s good to see you.

RICE:  Good to be with you.

CROWLEY:  And, you know, congratulations for bringing home a U.S. soldier.

RICE:  Thank you very much.

CROWLEY:  Thank you

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