A top White House adviser said Friday that President Barack Obama knew the swap of five Guantanamo Bay detainees for a U.S. soldier would be controversial, but believed it was the right thing to do.
“First and foremost the president thought we had a commitment and a duty to leave no men or woman behind on the battlefield,” said John Podesta, counselor to the president.
Speaking to reporters at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, Podesta suggested the U.S. is keeping its own tabs on the detainees, who will be in the custody of the government of Qatar for a year.
“There are ways that we have to monitor them beyond what Qatar is doing,” Podesta said. He said the U.S. has received assurances from the government of Qatar that any threat to the U.S. posed by the detainees would be “substantially mitigated.”
And, he added, “As you probably know, we have a lot of ways of knowing what people are doing around the country and around the world. I think it’s fair to say we’ll keep an eye on them.”
Members of Congress from both parties have assailed the decision, but Podesta dismissed worries that it could hurt Democrats at the ballot in in November.
“It’s a tough call but you have to make it,” he said. “You just don’t get the choice in this game to say ‘I’m sorry I’m going to wait until after November to deal with the opportunity” to bring a captive home. “You have to make a decision right there and then.”
Obama administration officials this week told lawmakers that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s life could have been in danger if details about the swap were divulged, but Senate Intelligence chairwoman Dianne Feinstein told Bloomberg Television she didn’t know that there was a threat.
"No, I don’t think there was a credible threat, but I don’t know,” Feinstein said in the interview to be aired Friday night. “I have no information that there was.”