Could Taliban He Freed Try to Harm U.S.? Obama: ‘Absolutely’

By Terence P. Jeffrey | June 3, 2014 | 2:34 PM EDT

President Barack Obama at a joint news conference with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski in Warsaw on June 3, 2014. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

( - President Barack Obama said today in Poland that it was “absolutely” the case that the five Taliban he released from Guantanamo Prison in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl could try to return to efforts to harm the United States.

“Is there the possibility of some of them trying to return to activities that are detrimental to us? Absolutely,” Obama said in Warsaw at an appearance with President Bronislaw Komorowski of Poland. “That’s been true of all the prisoners that were released from Guantanamo. There’s a certain recidivism rate that takes place. “

Obama announced on Saturday evening in the White House Rose Garden that he had agreed to release five Taliban detainees from the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in exchange for the release of Bergdahl, who had been held by the Taliban for five years.

“As part of this effort, the United States is transferring five detainees from the prison in Guantanamo Bay to Qatar,” Obama said Saturday. “The Qatari government has given us assurances that it will put in place measures to protect our national security.”

Citing a former senior military officer, the New York Times reported on Monday that Bergdahl had left his post in Afghanistan on June 30, 2009, leaving “behind a note in his tent saying he had become disillusioned with the Army, did not support the American mission in Afghanistan and was leaving to start a new life.”

Reuters reported on Tuesday, that Qatar was letting the Taliban whom Obama traded for Bergdahl move freely in their country. “Qatar has moved five Afghan Taliban prisoners freed in exchange for a U.S. soldier to a residential compound and will let them move freely in the country, a senior Gulf official said on Tuesday,” Reuters said.

In Poland, Obama brushed aside a question about the legality of his move to trade the release of the five Taliban for Bergdahl. Section 1028 of the Defense Authorization Act of 2013, which Obama signed, requires the secretary of Defense to provide Congress with a certification at least 30 days in advance if he is going to transfer a prisoner out of Guantanamo to a foreign country.

The law requires that the secretary of Defense in concurrence with the secretary of State and in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence certify that the foreign country to whom the released person is delivered “has taken or agreed to take effective actions to ensure that the individual cannot take action to threaten the United States, its citizens, or its allies in the future” and that it “has taken or agreed to take such actions as the Secretary of Defense determines are necessary to ensure that the individual cannot engage or reengage in any terrorist activity.”

At the Belweder Palace in Warsaw a reporter asked Obama: “Did your willingness to go around that 30-day requirement signal a new urgency to close Guantanamo now that you’re ending combat operations in Afghanistan?”

“The United States has always had a pretty sacred rule, and that is we don’t leave our men or women in uniform behind.  And that dates back to the earliest days of our revolution,” said Obama.

“We have consulted with Congress for quite some time about the possibility that we might need to execute a prisoner exchange in order to recover Sergeant Bergdahl,” he said. “We saw an opportunity.  We were concerned about Sergeatn Bergdahl’s health. We had the cooperation of the Qataris to execute an exchange, and we seized that opportunity.  And the process was truncated because we wanted to make sure that we did not miss that window.

“With respect to the circumstances of Sergeant Bergdahl’s capture by the Taliban, we obviously have not been interrogating Sergeant Bergdahl,” Obama said. “He is recovering from five years of captivity with the Taliban.  He’s having to undergo a whole battery of tests, and he is going to have to undergo a significant transition back into life.”

“But let me just make a very simple point here, and that is, regardless of the circumstances, whatever those circumstances may turn out to be, we still get an American soldier back if he’s held in captivity.  Period.  Full stop,” said Obama.

“In terms of potential threats, the release of the Taliban who were being held in Guantanamo was conditioned on the Qataris keeping eyes on them and creating a structure in which we can monitor their activities,” said Obama. “We will be keeping eyes on them.  Is there the possibility of some of them trying to return to activities that are detrimental to us?  Absolutely.  That’s been true of all the prisoners that were released from Guantanamo.  There’s a certain recidivism rate that takes place.

“I wouldn’t be doing it if I thought that it was contrary to American national security,” said Obama. “And we have confidence that we will be in a position to go after them if, in fact, they are engaging in activities that threaten our defenses.”