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Controversy On Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's Captivity; Soldiers Blame Bergdahl for Deaths; Politics React to Bergdahl Release; Tale of Two Brothers

Aired June 7, 2014 - 09:00   ET


MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: Good morning. I'm Michael Smerconish. The story of Bowe Bergdahl. His strange disappearance in Afghanistan, his nearly five years in captivity, and the secret deal to secure his release a week ago today. It's got America talking and how.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We saw an opportunity and we took it. I make no apologies for it.

HILLARY CLINTON, FMR. STATE SECRETARY: One of our values is we bring everybody home off the battle field the best we can. It doesn't matter how they ended up in a prisoner of war situation.

SUSAN RICE: As a prisoner of war, Bowe Bergdahl deserved, and we had the obligation and the commander-in-chief had the obligation to do what was necessary to bring him home.


SMERCONISH: Our first headline comes from ABC News. What the U.S. gave up to get Sergeant Bergdahl back. The price was high. Five so-called enemy combatants freed from Guantanamo Bay then greeted as heroes upon arrival in Qatar. White House opponents say the president cut a bad deal. Senator John McCain called the price incomprehensible. He's among those Republicans who publicly challenged the president to bring Bergdahl home and then criticized how it was done.

So did President Obama break the law? Did the U.S. negotiate with terrorists to win Bowe Bergdahl's freedom? What about Bergdahl himself? His doubts about the war, his interest in Islam? Here we go.

My first guest is Retired U.S. Marine Corps General James Mattis. He is the former commander of the U.S. Central Command under which Afghanistan falls. General Mattis, you are a retired four star marine general. Thank you so much for your service and for being here.

I understand, sir, that a horseshoe from the Bergdahl family home in Idaho used to hang outside your ops center, so, clearly, this has been on your radar screen for a long time.

GEN. JAMES MATTIS, RET., MARINE CORPS: Good morning, Michael. Of course, whenever we lose an American serviceman taken prisoner we keep that on right foremost in our operations. Our obligation is to bring all of our troops home, as the commander-in-chief has said. And we did not ever let this escape from our attention.

SMERCONISH: Have you recently spoken with the Bergdahl family, and if so, what can you tell us about their mindset as they watch these events unfold?

MATTIS: Well, you can imagine how they feel right now. Yes, I've spoken with the Bergdahls. We maintain contact with them throughout the period of their son's captivity. They, like any mother and father, are unbelievably relieved that he is back in our hands.

SMERCONISH: General, what, sir, do you think they would want Americans who are paying close attention to know about this story as it unfolds?

MATTIS: Well, Michael, you look at what this family's been through. Go back to our own lives the last four plus years, almost five years, every moment in their lives has been colored by what was going to happen with their son. I think the most important thing right now is we all just, as we call it in the military, we take a knee, we take a breath, we get the facts, we get him home, and the U.S. Army is quite capable of investigating this situation and coming up with ground truth.

There's been a lot of speculation. People who have knowledge and people who don't have any knowledge talking about it. But I think the first thing we do is give the Army time to figure out what happened and give the lad time to rejoin America and then we'll sort out the circumstances of his disappearance.

SMERCONISH: General, there are two edicts that I've heard repeated in the last several days. One that we leave no one behind and of course the other that we don't negotiate with terrorists. How can the two be reconciled?

MATTIS: Well, Bowe Bergdahl was not a soldier. He was a U.S. soldier. He's one of us. And even if we have disagreements or disappointments or worse, if the investigation were to find misconduct, we leave that as a separate issue to be handled quite capably by the U.S. Army under the U.S. Constitution and the laws that have been passed by the U.S. Congress.

These are difficult moral and foreign policy decisions and our country paid a serious price, heavy price to get Bowe Bergdahl back. That's something we have to work out and determine how best to handle it. I would just tell us, Michael, you are often in a situation like this to take the least bad option. What is the one that you can call not good but the least bad option in order to gain a release like this. It's very hard to reconcile those two competing points as you pointed out.

SMERCONISH: You reference, general, the price that was paid and you note that the criticism by some was that the price was too high. Let me ask, General Mattis, was the price we paid for the release of Bowe Bergdahl too high?

MATTIS: I don't know, Michael, the fact is we had to get him out of there. We could not leave him in the hands of this enemy and a year and a half or whatever here we're going to probably be in a position to release those guys considering the way the country has gone about holding them, and if that's the case, to use their release, a release of these guys in order to gain our soldier back, well, that was an option that had to be considered. But I've not drawn a conclusion yet about whether the price was too high or not.

SMERCONISH: Susan Rice made reference to his, "honorable service," and then I think she tried to explain those remarks a little further later in the week. Honorable service seems at odds with the military ethos of one never leaving his base or his command position. Will you speak to that issue?

MATTIS: Well, once we get all the facts. And I don't have all the facts right now. Obviously, we all had concerns about what we could derive from what we found after he was gone from his post. But I would just tell you that we need to let the Army figure out all the facts.

Let's not prejudge him. That's not the way we do it in America. And if, in fact, there is something that he should be held to account for, the U.S. Army knows how to do this. They've proven themselves quite capable of holding fast to good order and discipline and in the cases where someone is someone's self-discipline let us down the Army can hold him accountable, but I think it is premature to make that decision right now and we've got to let the facts sort themselves out here and we'll - I think we'll see the U.S. Army do that in the days ahead.

SMERCONISH: General Mattis, many seem to be conflating Al Qaeda with the Taliban in the context of this debate. How important, sir, that we differentiate between the two as we evaluate the Bowe Bergdahl situation?

MATTIS: Well, they're not one and the same organization. That said, confronted with one of the conditions for the Taliban to rejoin the political process in Afghanistan, one of those conditions was they break with Al Qaeda. They declined to break with Al Qaeda. So we have to consider a synergistic relationship of some kind and, of course, the Taliban are not monolithic.

The Haqqanis were a specially organization and there is a dichotomy between some of them and some of the Taliban. That was the reason we had to go after the Haqqanis very heavily and I would point out that during those times when General McChrystal, General Petraeus, General Allen, today General Dunnford conducts operations against the Haqqanis in the back of my mind although I supported those field commanders 100 percent, I was always concerned that with Bowe Bergdahl being held by them that they could make a propaganda film showing themselves killing him, because they obey none of the laws of the Geneva Convention law of war.

So with Bowe Bergdahl no longer held by them, it also makes the Haqqanis more vulnerable, I think, in the sense that we have no concern about what they might do to a captive American soldier, however they got their hands on him. SMERCONISH: And finally, general, there is a move afoot to put your name forth as a secretary of Veterans Affairs. Have you been contacted by the administration in that regard?

MATTIS: No, I have not, and I'm relatively certain I will not be.

SMERCONISH: Thank you so much for your service and for having been here. We really appreciate it.

So you remember that old headline "What the U.S. Gave up to get Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl Back" what I would have written, "Getting Bergdahl Back is Only the Beginning."

The night that Bowe Bergdahl disappeared from his post, you're about to hear from one of the men who was there, the man who trained Bergdahl, and the man who says Bergdahl deserted and caused Americans to die.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obviously, it happened because he walked off and they were doing those missions specifically. Everything changed. The mission was to find Bergdahl. That was the mission. And that's what everybody did. I mean, the whole game changed after he left.



SMERCONISH: Here's a headline from politifact that requires redefinition. "Did Bergdahl serve the U.S. with honor and distinction?" Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl's release has sparked a lot of outrage not only from the political pundits with an agenda or the arm chair quarterbacks of the twitter-verse but also from his very own unit.

Some former members of Bergdahl's platoon are calling him a deserter and refer to the Taliban swap as a joke. Sergeant Matthew Vierkant was a member of Bergdahl's platoon and he joins me now. You trained him before the, "desertion." What kind of soldier was he?

SGT MATTHEW VIERKANT, FMR. MEMBER OF BERGDAHL'S PLATOON: He was actually a pretty good soldier. I mean he was always reading the ranger handbook, you know, 7-A (ph), asking questions. That's why when it happened, you know, it was pretty shocking to us, too, because he wanted - we saw the effort he wanted to put forth and learn the general knowledge of weapons systems and how to become better and really wanted to understand how it worked and why it worked, why we did things that way. So it was very surprising.

SMERCONISH: There was no sign of something being amiss with him that you picked up on before the disappearance.

VIERKANT: Not before the disappearance, no.

SMERCONISH: The day of the disappearance, what happened? VIERKANT: I was up at machine gun nest, I'm OP. Got a radio call there asking if Bergdahl was up there. We replied, no. And we saw frantic activity down below, people running around checking trucks, you know, everywhere, leaving no stone unturned. Called down and asked what's going on, they tell us, the whole thing probably developed in 10 to 15 minutes, searched everything. OK. This is serious. We're sending it up the chain of command.

If anybody knows anything say something right now. OK. It's going up. Sent it up. You know, then they come back down, tell us, you know, kick out in the immediate area. Question people. Search, you know, see if he's within the immediate area. He wasn't.

SMERCONISH: Desertion is a pretty strong charge. What's the basis for you using that to label this situation?

VIERKANT: The basis is I believe it was premeditated. I believe before we went on that mission he had planned to do exactly what he did, walk off. I mean, with the e-mail to his father coming out now, you know, mailing his lap top home or somewhere, I mean, and then leaving his weapon and equipment, you know, asking questions about am I going to get in trouble if I take this with me, you know, all the stuff that comes out after the fact, it can only point to one thing but premeditation and plans.

SMERCONISH: The e-mail to dad among other things said "the horror that is America is disgusting." I take it when you first heard of that it came as a surprise because you'd never heard him verbalize or write or e-mail or text anything of a similar nature.

VIERKANT: Yes, exactly. I mean, just hearing that disgusts me. I mean, just because, I mean, I love America and we thought he did, too.

SMERCONISH: Sergeant Vierkant, did men die searching for Bowe Bergdahl?

VIERKANT: Oh, yes. Men were injured and killed in the search for him.

SMERCONISH: The "New York Times" looked at it this week. The word choice that they used, "murky." "Can G.I. be Tied to Six Lost Lives? The facts are murky." Are the facts murky? Is there an individual that you can point to and say, his death was caused by Bowe Bergdahl?

VIERKANT: Yes. (INAUDIBLE) from our company.

SMERCONISH: Darryn Andrews, Lieutenant Darryn Andrews?

VIERKANT: And Matthew Martinek.

SMERCONISH: What happened to them that causes you to tie to that to Bowe Bergdahl?

VIERKANT:: They were on specific missions searching, questioning to find Bergdahl when it happened, so if he wouldn't have walked off then they would never have been on those missions to begin with, you know, probably wouldn't have been in that area. Could have been somewhere else. I mean, obviously, it happened because he walked off.

They were doing those missions specifically. Everything changed. The mission was to find Bergdahl. That was the mission. And that's what everybody did. I mean, the whole game changed after he left.

SMERCONISH: Is your criticism of the way this has turned out that an effort was made to bring him back or that we paid too high of a price? Because it sounded like at the outset of our conversation that you don't object to efforts having been undertaken to get him back.

VIERKANT: Oh, no. Everybody that I know and military guys, they don't object to getting him back. Yes, he's an American. He did serve in the Army. Whether he deserted or not, yes, we're going to get him back. But, I believe it was too high of a price.

SMERCONISH: The price for one.

VIERKANT: Oh, definitely and especially considering who they were, spending 10 to 12 years in prison, that's only going to harden their resolve to retaliate against us. Just because they're sent to Qatar doesn't mean they can't give orders and send it out somewhere else or whatever. What is going to happen in five years?

SMERCONISH: OK. Final question. By the way, thank you for your service.

VIERKANT: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: What should happen now?

VIERKANT: What I believe should happen now, there should be an investigation encompassing all of the evidence and information from 2009 and all of the evidence and information leading up and to his release. Go over that. Send him to trial. Article 85 desertion under UCMJ. Have his day in court and we'll see what happens.

SMERCONISH: Would the fact that he spent five years in Taliban imprisonment be a mitigating factor? In other words, if he were tried, if he were convicted, would he get some form of credit for the time that he spent being locked up by the Taliban?

VIERKANT: For me, personally, no. Especially if they find him to be a deserter or, you know, plus other things that could happen from that, then definitely not. Especially if he deserted. He put himself in that situation. So, you know, he is going to have to pay for his actions.

SMERCONISH: Matt Vierkant, thank you so much.

You remember that old headline, "Did Bergdahl serve the U.S. with Honor and Distinction?" What I would have written? No band of brothers now.

After five years in captivity, Bowe Bergdahl is on his way home, but some families are saying that because of him their loved ones will never return. You'll hear from the parents of one of those soldiers, who say they now know who to blame for his death. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Hey, we'll get back to Bowe Bergdahl in just a moment but first more of this week's headlines. We call them "Headlines Redefined" because they got the story only half right.

First from "The Wall Street Journal," "GM fires 15 Employees over Recall Failures." GM's report written by a former U.S. attorney was released this week about the whole ignition fiasco. It was 315 pages long. They've taken ownership thus far of 54 crashes and 13 fatalities. Fifteen were fired but there's one engineer whose name is 200 times referenced in that report, and this one engineer approved the switch even though he knew it failed the safety standards.

He then tweaked the design but told no one and then he didn't change the part number so it made it much more difficult to unravel what had really gone on here. Now this is also the story of a different engineer, an engineer by the name of Mark Hood. I once interviewed him here on CNN. He was hired by a trial attorney representing the estate of Brook Melton, one of the victims of this whole GM catastrophe, a 29-year-old young woman.

And Mark Hood's sleuthing in junk yards allowed him to solve what had gone on here because he compared different parts that had the same number but were different in configuration. Bottom line for me is that this case speaks to the power of individuals and the effect that individuals can have on our lives both for good and for bad.

You remember that original headline, "GM Fires 15 Employees over Recall Failures?" What I would have written, "The Power of One."

The next headline is from "The Los Angeles Times." "Donald Sterling to Drop Fight to Keep Clippers and Allow sale to Ballmer." The Clippers owner you know made those racist statements about Magic Johnson is now saying, you know, I'll allow the sale to go forward. Well, why wouldn't he? He bought the team for $12 million. He's about to sell the team for $2 billion. That's four times the record that was paid.

The Milwaukee bucks just sold for only $550 million. You know, sports economists say they can't justify, they can't rationalize. They can't explain the price being paid by Steve Ballmer. I can. I think it's all of the publicity albeit negative publicity surrounding what Sterling said that drove interest in the franchise and, hence, in the purchase price.

You remember that original headline, "Donald Sterling to Drop Fight to Keep Clippers, Allow Sale to Ballmer" what I would have written? "Racism Pays Sadly."

Troops who dropped everything to search for Bowe Bergdahl say he deserted and caused Americans to die. You're going to hear from the mother of one of the men killed action. She blames his death on a mission to rescue Bergdahl.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SMERCONISH: This week the "Daily Beast" summed up the conundrum over Bowe Bergdahl with a bracing headline. "We Lost Soldiers in the Hunt for Bergdahl, A Guy who Walked Off in the Dead of Night." That's not all.

Some of Bergdahl's own platoon mates now are saying they hold him to blame, that is they blame Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl for the deaths of six Americans, perhaps even more, during harrowing operations to try to find him. Maybe you were with us just a moment and saw this.


VIERKANT: (INAUDIBLE) and Matt from our company.

SMERCONISH: Darryn Andrews, Lieutenant Darren Andrews.

VIERKANT: And Matthew Martinek.

SMERCONISH: What happened to them that causes you to tie that to Bowe Bergdahl?

VIERKANT: They were on specific missions, you know, searching, questioning to find Bergdahl. It happened because he walked off. And they were doing those missions specifically. Everything changed. The mission was to find Bergdahl. That was the mission. And that's what everybody did.


SMERCONISH: Still, some say the facts are murky. The troops now blaming Bergdahl have coalesced behind the names of six soldiers as those who died trying to find Bowe Bergdahl. You heard Matt Vierkant speak of Darryn Andrews. He was killed in an ambush two months after Bergdahl vanished. 2nd Lt. Andrews left behind a son who is a toddler and a wife who is expecting the couple's second child.

His mother, Sondra Andrews, joins me now from Houston.

I'm so sorry for your loss. Please first tell us a little bit about your son.

SONDRA ANDREWS, SON KILLED IN AFGHANISTAN: Well, that's easy to do. Darryn was a remarkable young man. He was always passionate about everything he did. He was an adventurous child. He contained himself by some restrictions that he knew he had to focus on a career and go through school, but he still enjoyed scuba diving, sky diving, climbing mountains, just all around activities.

But he always had a deep desire to help people. He started at an early age assisting people, running to open doors and carry groceries and do things in the parking lots for elderly people or anyone that needed some assistance.

SMERCONISH: When he died --

ANDREWS: He taught school and coached. SMERCONISH: I'm sorry, ma'am.

ANDREWS: He taught school and coached. And we had a lot of information from his students about what an outstanding role model he had been for their lives.

SMERCONISH: When he passed on September 4th of 2009, what were you told by the military as to the cause of death? What was he doing at the time?

ANDREWS: They were on a mission to capture a Taliban that had -- was highly regarded and they felt like was pivotal that if they could capture him it would benefit the American troops.

SMERCONISH: And what is it that you been led to believe?

ANDREWS: And we were told that -- we've been led to believe that they were not on that mission. That they were strictly on a mission looking for Bergdahl.


SMERCONISH: Has the military said something to you in a formal sense, or is this based on those who served with him?

ANDREWS: That's based on the men that served with Darryn.

SMERCONISH: What is it that you'd like to see happen now?

ANDREWS: There's a couple of things I would like to see happen. I'd like to see Bergdahl given an opportunity to tell his story, be on trial, have the witnesses come forward, and tell their story and get the truth through that and then I would like to see the full measure of the law followed for his punishment. And I would appreciate information from the military to us and our family on what Darryn was doing and why they lied to us.

SMERCONISH: I would think you would be owed that information, Mrs. Andrews. Thank you so, so much, again, for being here and we apologize, everyone, for your loss.

Here with me now is reporter Andrew Lehren of the "New York Times." He's done some deep digging on the claims that Sergeant Bergdahl caused the deaths of fellow soldiers.

Andy, good to see you again.


SMERCONISH: In the headline of the "Times", "Can GI Be Tied to Six Lost Lives," facts are, and the word choice is murky. How come?

LEHREN: Well, what we wanted to do is take a step back and look at the secret military dispatches being written at the time both before and after Bergdahl's abduction. To try to bring readers back to what Afghanistan, in particular this eastern province, Paktika Province, right along the Pakistan border, to see what the war was like both before and after.

And the reason why that's important is that in that area you had a Haqqani network commander. Now the Haqqanis you may know are deeply tied with the Taliban. They were bringing over Pakistani insurgents. They were having a lot of activity in that area. Mortar fire, small arms fire. This was in both the months leading up to Bergdahl's kidnapping as well as afterward.

So you read the secret dispatches and what do you see? You see that both before Bergdahl walked off the base, you see before that, that bases were being targeted. IED blasts were going off and then afterwards you see the same thing continuing.

So let's look at the first two deaths that we know of that people have been claimed are tied to Bergdahl's being kidnapped. Those happened on July 4th in 2009. By the way, these deaths are happening in 2009, which is by far and away, you know, it's going to become the bloodiest year in the war up to that point and Paktia, itself, was becoming very bloody. So July 4th, 2009, mortar fire hitting a base. These soldiers are not out on patrol. They're not having road blocks. They're being attacked. This had been attacked both before Bergdahl walked off the base as well as afterwards.

So in the military's own assessment, their own words, how are they assessing the situation? They're saying, this is all part of Mullah Sangeen's overall increasing in violence in this area. They're not tying it to the Bergdahl case. The military, itself, at this point is saying, this is part of Mullah Sangeen's complete increase --

SMERCONISH: How about that mom's case before we have to shut down?

LEHREN: Very powerful story.

SMERCONISH: Very powerful. And she says he was on a reconnaissance mission on September 4th, 2009, and that's what the colleagues are saying.

LEHREN: Right.

SMERCONISH: I guess -- I guess I want to ask --


LEHREN: And I don't think we're disputing what these people are saying. We're just saying that there's -- that the military, itself, in their own words, written at the time before all of this other freight is being brought on board, the military in its own words is painting a more complicated story. And we're just trying to say to readers, let's just take a step back and try to see as much as we can of the whole record.

SMERCONISH: You're still on it. Going to pursue this.

LEHREN: We're all still working on it and the "Times" I know continues to work on this story.


Andrew Lehren, thank you so much.

LEHREN: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: You remember that original headline from the "Daily Beast," "We Lost Soldiers in the Hunt for Bergdahl, A Guy Who Walked Off in the Dead of Night"? What I would have written? Nothing murky about a parent's pain.

Politicians quickly took to social media to celebrate Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl's return, but then some couldn't find that delete button fast enough.


SMERCONISH: Hey, it was inevitable but perhaps happened faster than people expected. On Capitol Hill Sergeant Bergdahl now represents a political football that each party is hurling at the other. And to that point, the AP wrote this week, "Bergdahl Swap, A Flashpoint of Rival Charges."

Members of Congress are demanding answers. Some appear to need them personally to calibrate their own faulty messaging. Shortly after Bergdahl was handed over to special forces, Massachusetts Democrat Stephen Lynch tweeted unqualified approval but it didn't take long before Lynch's tweet was deleted as were tweets by Nevada Republican Mark Amodei who called it the best news that he heard in a long time. And endangered Senate Republican Thad Cochran, who tweeted out thanks on behalf of the nation for Bergdahl's service in the military, guess what, that tweet gone as well.

The about-face done by many politicians led Will Bunch to ask, for god's sake, where's the humanity? Bunch wrote on HuffPo political blog entry entitled, "America, What the Hell is Wrong With Us?"

And Will Bunch joins me now.

You know, Will, I tell my sons, don't hit that send key. Somebody needs to tell it to the politicians.

WILL BUNCH, SENIOR WRITER, PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS: Absolutely. You know, first of all, Mike, I just want to say, you know, my heart goes out to the Andrews family and the family of anyone who lost a loved one in Afghanistan. I think that's why it is so important that we get the reaction to this right and I think it's so important that our political leaders act like adults. And you know, you have to ask where are the grownups on this one?

I think a lot of times your first reaction is the best one. Here are people, you know, there was a five-year search, a five-year hunt for them, bringing Sergeant Bergdahl home was the completion of this mission. People were happy. His hometown was planning a victory celebration. And I think these tweets were natural and human. And then we saw panic. They were afraid of what, you know, FOX News, they were afraid of what Rush Limbaugh would say, they were afraid of the reaction from, you know, voters on the far right, in some cases, although as you noted we've seen craven behavior by Democrats, too, like Congressman Lynch.

SMERCONISH: You know, I read your piece in tandem with something that Frank Bruni wrote for the "Times" full screen ahead, I'm sure you read it. We no longer have news. We have spring boards for commentary, we have cues for tweets. And unfortunately, you know, many among us are not reading long form stuff. They're taking their news and information from 140 characters. To me, that's the big picture beyond the hypocrisy that you point out.

BUNCH: I think so. But, you know, like I said, I just think -- I think the welcome home tweets were a natural reaction and, you know, the fact that these congressmen and people like Joni Ernst, who tweeted -- you know, she's the Republican Senate candidate in Iowa who tweeted that her thoughts and prayers were with the Bergdahl family. She deleted that. You know, there's another TV personality said, you can't take back thoughts and prayers. But people are doing that. And you're right. I think -- you know, I think it is the simplicity of this Twitter world that we live in.

SMERCONISH: The hypocrisy, I think, as you point out in your piece, is indefensible. And you cited several different examples. There remain legitimate issues to be sorted out in this case. For example the five-for-one transaction, was it fair? Were we out negotiated? Who are those five guys? You'd agree that there are many matters of substance we need to get to the bottom of.

BUNCH: Absolutely. And that's -- you know, and that's why we're looking for Congress to look at these issues seriously. I mean, there are issues, I think -- I think most people even all of us who do welcome Sgt. Bergdahl home don't have a -- don't have a problem with the army having an inquiry. We always want more facts and more information. You know, and the same with Congress. I mean, they're free to ask questions.

But you have to wonder, Michael, about people like Senator John McCain, who back in February was asked about this very deal, about trading these five Taliban for Sergeant Bergdahl. And he said he was fine with it. You know, he wanted to bring Sergeant Bergdahl home. He said that was something we should look at. The minute he put his finger up to the wind and gauged the reaction and he suddenly thought it was a terrible idea. That isn't helping us get answers at all.

SMERCONISH: Will bunch, thank you so much for being here. Good to see you.

You remember that old headline from the AP? "Bergdahl Swap a Flashpoint of Rival Charges"? What I would have written? "Social Media Highlights Hypocrisy."

An American tale of two brothers in arms as told by a father, a Marine.

And one last thing on the Bergdahl deal. Why President Obama may be trying to get the most out of the notorious detention center that he has vowed to shutter.


SMERCONISH: In this week's "Book Club" a story made in America. A story of two best friends buried side by side at Arlington National Cemetery and hailed by their commander-in-chief.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The friendship between 1st Lt. Travis Manion and Lt. Brendan Looney reflects the meaning of Memorial Day. Brotherhood, sacrifice, love of country.


SMERCONISH: They were Naval Academy roommates who tragically had their lives shortened. They define an entire generation's sacrifice.

The story of Travis Manion and Brendan Looney is told by Travis' father in the new book "Brothers Forever." It's co-authored by Tom Sileo. Colonel Tom Manion joins me now.

You did a tremendous job in paying homage and tribute to your son and his roommate.

Thanks, Mike.

SMERCONISH: On September 11th Travis received that fateful news gathered amongst other midshipman and it really impacted him.

MANION: Yes, it was a wakeup call down there in Annapolis that day they locked the campus down and, you know, these guys, these young men and women knew they were going to combat.

SMERCONISH: Your son was a wrestler. Stud of a guys, if I can say that. Brendan Looney was a football player turned lacrosse player. They were roommates, they went in separate directions then when they went off to serve on the battlefield.

MANION: Yes. They were two guys that had a lot of character, they were athletes, good students, but, you know, as you talked to the set in the beginning, you know, they represent a lot of these young men and women that have served our country.

SMERCONISH: You hear so much about the greatest generation and I think that Tom Brokaw has done a wonderful job in writing about the greatest generation. But what I took away from reading "Brothers Forever" is that we're in the midst of a new great generation and that's really a large reason that you wanted to write this book.

MANION: That's exactly it, Mike. I mean, when the president talked about these two guys and you think about, they met at 9/11, their time spans through the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden, they represent this whole generation, and, you know, their story represents America's story with these great young men and women that are serving. SMERCONISH: They gave their lives, your son and Brendan Looney, in

service to their country and then a decision was made that they should spend eternity together.

MANION: Yes. We actually had Travis up at home in the cemetery near home and we found out after we buried him that he really wanted to be in Arlington. So we never really got him settled. And then when we lost Brendan and Brendan's wife Any said she wanted Brendan and Travis side by side we decided to move him down to Arlington and fortunately we got a lot of help making it happen and they're right down there together with all those other heroes.

SMERCONISH: Your son didn't come home, the Bergdahl son is coming home. You're a Marine veteran yourself and watching these events unfold. Give me a 30-second perspective on how you look at the Bergdahl case.

MANION: Well, you know, as a -- as a father of a son that didn't come home, I'm really thankful that they have their son back. And you know, that's -- that's a good thing for them. And I think General Madist summed it very up well this morning, I mean, we have to wait and see what comes out of the circumstances when he left the camp, but right now, it's great to have him back home with his parents.

SMERCONISH: I think that's a sound approach.

The book is called "Brothers Forever." Colonel Tom Manion is the author along with Tom Sileo.


MANION: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: The president makes a top seat secret deal to swap Taliban prisoners for an American prisoner of war. But at what cost? I think I know why and it has a lot more to do with a move on the political chessboard.


SMERCONISH: "One Last Thing." You know, usually a story about a prisoner's release marks its wind down. In the case of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl I get the impression the national debate is just beginning.

Look, there are some among us who would oppose sunshine if President Obama were for it, but I don't think this story is another Benghazi. While I'm pleased that an American family is getting a loved one home safely there are legitimate questions that require thoughtful resolution, namely at what cost did we secure Bergdahl's release? Were we out-negotiated in the five-for-one swap with the Taliban particularly in light of a circumstances that gave rise to Bergdahl's capture?

The White House has not made a convincing case that the deal was proper and necessary much less that requirements were met for congressional consultation. That we would question the release of five Guantanamo prisoners in any circumstance was to be expected and yet the administration seems to have been caught flat-footed by a predictable backlash only furthering the perception that the entire situation was not thought through.

Politically speaking, announcing a deal with the Taliban is the sort of thing you do in a Friday document dump not in a Rose Garden speech with a father who had gone to great lengths to establish simpatico with his son's apparent captors. According to the "Washington Post" just a few days prior, Robert Bergdahl had tweeted to a Taliban spokesman, quote, "I am still working to free all Guantanamo prisoners, God will repay for the death of every Afghan child. Amen."

The tweet has since been removed.

Did Michael Hastings "Rolling Stone" piece from 2012 not make the briefing book? How is it not relevant to the swap that two days prior to his departure, according to Hastings, Bergdahl e-mailed his dad, "The horror that is America is disgusting." A message to which his father replied with a subject line, saying, "Obey your conscience." And while it's important that we not convict Bergdahl based upon a magazine story it's difficult to dismiss the testimonials from his military colleagues who now suggest that men died while trying to locate Bergdahl, although exactly how many is not entirely clear.


OBAMA: 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. We don't condition that.


SMERCONISH: I can think of two reasons for the president to ignore the circumstances surrounding Bergdahl neither of which assuages my concerns over the release of the five Taliban leaders. First, that this is part of a larger deal with the Taliban intended to secure a lasting peace in Afghanistan as our involvement winds down. Second, that the president is intent on closing Guantanamo, where we haven't sentenced much less tried the detainees and he's concluded that he may as well get something of value in return for their release.

Whatever the rationale, now that the call has been made the right path is for a full investigation to commence. If it's determined that Bergdahl deserted, he should be prosecuted in a court of military justice. If an impartial review reveals that his service was with honor and distinction, then some are going to owe him their thanks and an apology. But the rule of law demands that the case not end with his return.

Thank you so much for watching. I'll see you back here next week and until then, have a great weekend.