UK & World News

  • 5 June 2014, 15:06

Obama Says 'No Apologies' For Bergdahl Deal

President Barack Obama has said at a press conference in Brussels he makes "no apologies" for the deal that freed American POW Bowe Bergdahl.

The US leader said: "We have a basic principle we don't leave anybody wearing the American uniform behind.

"We had a prisoner of war whose health had deteriorated and we were deeply concerned about it 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 we were dealing with and the fragile nature of these negotiations we felt it was important to go ahead and do what we did."

Obama administration officials have been scrambling to defuse a political row over the deal that exchanged Army Sgt Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban inmates at Guantanamo Bay.

The president, however, said the bipartisan backlash back home was not unexpected.

"I'm never surprised by controversies that are whipped up in Washington," he told reporters. "That's par for the course."

"This is not political football," he added.

His remarks come a day after Sgt Bergdahl's Idaho hometown cancelled his homecoming party amid mounting backlash over claims he deserted.

Hailey residents were swamped with hate mail and angry phone calls branding Sgt Bergdahl, who officials concluded walked away from his base in June 2009, a traitor.

The 28-year-old is at an American military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, undergoing "decompression" as he is made ready to re-enter society, say US officials.

Senators, who are dismayed they did not receive prior notification of the prisoner swap, voiced frustration as they left a closed-door briefing on Wednesday night with officials from the State Department, Pentagon and intelligence agencies.

Some of the lawmakers said the deal to exchange the US soldier was a bad move.

"I'm increasingly sceptical that this was a good trade for America," Republican Senator Marco Rubio said.

"We've also released five very dangerous individuals who I believe will rejoin the fight against America. And we've set a precedent that now will encourage other enemies of the United States to seek out to try and capture American men and women in uniform."

Another Republican Senator, John McCain, himself a former POW in Vietnam, said the Taliban commanders would almost certainly return to the battlefield.

"I promise you, in a year from now, if not before, they will be back in Afghanistan and in the fight," he said.

Senators said officials had shown them a proof-of-life video, recorded several months ago by the insurgents, in which Sgt Bergdahl looked unwell.

Democratic Senator Dick Durbin added: "He looked either drugged or tired or sick. It's hard to describe, but he did not look like a normal person."

Republican Senator Mark Kirk told reporters: "He didn't look good. I understand the emotional power that that video would have had on the president."

But Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, said he doubted whether Sgt Bergdahl's apparently poor health justified the deal.

"I think we can all agree we're not dealing with a war hero here," he said of the soldier.