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Kerry calls threats of freed Taliban to resume war ‘baloney’

Sen. Feinstein says she doubts five former prisoners will be monitored in Qatar.

First Published Jun 08 2014 10:06 pm • Last Updated Jun 08 2014 10:06 pm

Washington • U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said threats by the five freed Taliban prisoners swapped for Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl to return to war and kill Americans are "a lot of baloney."

Defending the swap that secured the release of the last American prisoner of war in Afghanistan, Kerry said the movements of the five Taliban prisoners released to Qatar will be closely monitored.

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"No one should doubt the capacity of America to protect Americans," Kerry said from France in a taped interview for CNN’s "State of the Union" program Sunday.

Bergdahl, held captive for almost five years, was released May 31 in exchange for five Taliban prisoners held by the U.S. at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba. The deal requires that the five men remain in Qatar for at least a year.

"They’re not the only ones keeping an eye on them," Kerry said of the Qataris, while declining to elaborate.

"We have proven what we are capable of doing with al-Qaida," he said.

The threats by the Taliban prisoners to resume fighting in Afghanistan and kill Americans amount to propaganda, Kerry said. "They’ll say whatever they want to stir the waters," he said.

With the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan coming to an end and most troops to be withdrawn by the end of 2016, opportunities for Taliban to kidnap Americans will dwindle, Kerry said.

Whether or not Bergdahl deserted his post in eastern Afghanistan, as some of his former fellow soldiers claim, "it would have been offensive and incomprehensible to consciously leave an American behind," Kerry said.

Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican and former Vietnam prisoner of war, criticized the deal on the same program.

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The five Taliban prisoners "were evaluated and judged as too great a risk to release," McCain said.

"I’m sad to tell you I’m afraid they’re going to re-enter the fight," he said.

Lawmakers of both parties have faulted President Barack Obama’s administration for failing to notify and consult them about the prisoner exchange in advance.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who heads the Senate intelligence committee, echoed that concern Sunday as she questioned Kerry’s assertion that the five freed Taliban members would be carefully monitored.

"It’s hard to be comfortable when you really haven’t been briefed on the intricacies of carrying out this agreement," Feinstein said on CBS’ "Face the Nation" program.

Bergdahl, who remains at an Army medical center in Landstuhl, Germany, has told medical officials that his former captors locked him in a metal cage in darkness for weeks at a time as punishment for trying to escape, the New York Times reported Sunday. A U.S. defense official declined to confirm that account.

Feinstein, when asked about the Times report, said she had heard rumors of Bergdahl trying to escape his captivity, though she said she had never heard of any allegations of torture.

Breaking with the administration over its handling of the prisoner swap, Feinstein said she wasn’t reassured by Kerry’s claim that the five Taliban men would be monitored in Doha.

"You can’t help but worry about them in Doha," Feinstein said. "And we have no information on how the United States is actually going to see that they remain in Doha, that they make no comments, that they do no agitation."

Republican lawmakers said the administration violated a law requiring 30 days’ notice to Congress before any prisoners are transferred or released from Guantanamo Bay. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and National Security Advisor Susan Rice said a week ago they couldn’t afford to wait 30 days because Bergdahl’s health was deteriorating and his life was at risk.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the top Republican on Feinstein’s committee, disputed that explanation today on CBS.

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