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Was Negotiating With The Taliban The Only Way To Free Bergdahl?


After almost five years in captivity, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has been released by the Afghan Taliban. He had been held along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border by the more militant Haqqani network. In exchange for his freedom, the U.S. released five high-profile Taliban detainees from the Guantanamo Bay Prison. Some members of Congress have criticized the administration for negotiating with the Taliban. Republican Congressman Mike Rogers of Michigan is one such voice. He is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He joins me now on the line.

Congressman, after 9/11, the United States was at war with the Taliban. These are five high-ranking Taliban officials who've been released in this exchange. The war is now winding down in Afghanistan so why doesn't a prisoner exchange like this make sense to you?

CONGRESSMAN MIKE ROGERS: Well, first of all, the prisoner was in the custody of the Haqqani network, which is a terrorist organization, not in Afghanistan, but Pakistan - number one. Number two, the folks that they have released, some of them have been engaged in large-scale narcotics trafficking and are close to al-Qaeda figures.

MARTIN: The country of Qatar agreed to take these five Taliban detainees. This morning, CNN's Candy Crowley asked U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice how the U.S. can be sure that these detainees will not pose a threat in the future. Here's what she said.


SUSAN RICE: Those assurances were repeated directly and personally by Amir to the president. They enable us to have confidence that these prisoners will be carefully watched. That they're ability to move will be constrained. And we believe that this is in the national security interest of the United States.

MARTIN: I assume you are not convinced by this.

ROGERS: Well, only because as chairman of the Intelligence Committee, we get to see how these other deals of removing prisoners form Guantanamo Bay and sending them to countries just didn't work. It's not just because it's Qatar. It's not just because I'm not a big fan of negotiating with terrorists. We have track record there that does not pretend well for what's going to happen with these prisoners.

MARTIN: The U.S. Military's commitment, though, is to not leave any man or woman behind. So what was the alternative? Would you have left Sgt. Bergdahl there until a different kind of deal could have been brokered?

ROGERS: It's great that he's home. The problem is the methodology. I do believe that you can continue to put pressure in ways to get to Sgt. Bergdahl out. And that doesn't denote that you've left him behind. It means that it may take longer than we want. But at the same time, if you can do it in a way that doesn't jeopardize the soldiers that are in Afghanistan or the forces and diplomats that we have stationed all of the world in some very dangerous places.

MARTIN: But barring a military operation - boots on the ground - what would those other avenues have been to secure his release?

ROGERS: Well, you could continue to put leverage. Now the fact that the president announced that we were absolutely leaving in 2016 did take away a large percentage of leverage with regaining the custody of Mr. Bergdahl, which remember, he was held in Pakistan by a terrorist organization. There are other avenues that could be pursued in order to secure his release. But you have to weigh the consequences of the methodology that they use versus what potential harm could come to the soldiers that are in Afghanistan. Many, me included, believe that this just put a price on the head of every U.S. soldier. It just puts their faith in question now as well.

MARTIN: Republican Congressman Mike Rogers of Michigan. He's the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Thanks so much for talking with us, Congressman.

ROGERS: Thank you, Rachel. Appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.