Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel confirms that the Obama administration “unanimously” decided trading the freedom of five high-ranking Taliban officials for the life of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was the right thing to do, and he states that whether the Taliban considers the trade a victory is “irrelevant.”
In an interview with BBC’s Katty Kay Thursday, Hagel once again defended the trade that freed Bergdahl, whom fellow soldiers say deserted his battalion and cost the lives of six colleagues. “It was our judgment based on the information that we had that his life, his health, were in peril,” Hagel told Kay, refusing to directly answer whether they believed the threat to his life and health was “imminent.” He added, “It’s easy for us to sit here and say, [but] it was our judgment” that Bergdahl needed an immediate rescue.
Hagel stated that not only Bergdahl’s safety was in play, but that of those who would enter Afghanistan to save him. “Can you imagine if we would have waited or taken the chance of leaks over a 30-day period?” Hagel asked. “I will tell you what I know–and I made a judgment on this, too–that would have seriously imperiled us ever getting him out.”
Hagel also repeated the Obama administration’s line that “we don’t leave our people behind,” and concerning questions about how Bergdahl wound up in Taliban captivity in the first place, he said, “The Army has already addressed that, and we’ll get to that.”
Hagel confirmed that he was “satisfied” with what he argued were his two responsibilities as Defense Secretary: “It was in the national security interests of the United States to release him” and “the substantial mitigation of risks.”
Kay asked whether it was a problem for America’s national security interests that it appeared the Taliban was celebrating the trade, even releasing a video of it. “I don’t know why they released the video, but that’s irrelevant whether they think it’s a victory or not,” Hagel replied.
These comments are the latest in a string of defenses from Hagel regarding the Bergdahl trade. In statements on Sunday, Hagel reiterated that “it was our judgment that if we could find an opening and move very quickly with that opening, that we needed to get him out of there essentially to save his life.” He has also chided those who criticize the trade, asserting they are rushing to judgments.
While Hagel has been vocal about the importance of saving Sgt. Bergdahl’s life, he has been less forthcoming about analyzing the losses the Army took in trying to find him since his capture in 2009. “I do not know of specific circumstances or details of U.S. soldiers dying as a result of efforts to find and rescue Sgt. Bergdahl,” Hagel told reporters at a press conference in Belgium this week, refusing to discuss the six who died in the search “until we know all the facts.”