By Justin Sink - 06/05/14 10:33 AM EDT
President Obama said Thursday he would make “absolutely no apologies” for ordering the controversial prisoner swap to rescue Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the last American prisoner of war in Afghanistan.
Obama said he was never surprised by “controversies that are whipped up in Washington,” but deflected criticism from members of Congress and the military over the trade of five Guantánamo prisoners for Bergdahl, who has been accused of abandoning his post in Afghanistan before his capture.
Obama said he had “discussed with Congress that something like this could occur” and reiterated that his administration had pressing concerns about the health and safety of Bergdahl.
“With the fragile nature of these negotiations, we felt like it was important to go ahead and do what we did,” he said.
Obama reiterated that no matter what the allegations surrounding Bergdahl's conduct, the U.S. had a “basic principle” that they “do not leave anybody wearing the American uniform behind.”
“The American people understand this is somebody's child and that we don't condition whether or not we make the effort to get someone back,” Obama said.
The president also defended the decision to appear alongside Bergdahl's parents during an announcement of the deal on Saturday. Some have argued that decision elevated the soldier's profiles and invited the tougher examination of his conduct on the battlefield.
But Obama said he felt it was important to humanize the decision, and said he wrote "too many letters" to parents whose children don't return from war.
“I think it was important to understand this is not some abstraction, not some political football,” Obama said.
The White House has come under fire for the deal, with some Republicans expressing concern that the five freed Taliban detainees could return to the fight against the United States.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have blasted Obama for not consulting with them prior to the deal, skirting a law mandating that the president inform them 30 days before initiating the transfer from any prisoner from the military prison. The White House has said the requirement is unconstitutional, a point Obama made in a signing statement when the bill became law.
On Wednesday night, White House aides held a secure briefing for senators, where they showed a video of Bergdahl in Taliban custody. The administration argued the tape, which showed the soldier in apparent poor health, justified its decision to move quickly — although some lawmakers disagreed.
Senators left the briefing unsatisfied.
“That did not sell me at all,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).
“That is not the person that was released here. He was not in that type of dire situation when he was released,” he added.