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Bergdahl's Actions Questioned; Bergdahl Deal and Congress; Prisoner Swap Broke Federal Law; CNN's Ivan Watson Roughed Up Live on Air

Aired June 02, 2014 - 09:30   ET



CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Thanks so much for joining me. I'm Carol Costello.

Bowe Bergdahl, the P.O.W. dramatically released over the weekend in a swap for five Taliban prisoners, is waking up in a German hospital today. He's receiving treatment there after a five-year ordeal. The U.S. says Bergdahl's health was rapidly deteriorating, forcing the government to act fast to secure his freedom. But reaction to Bergdahl's release has been mixed. While many praise the face that Bergdahl is free, questions and criticism are swirling around the Obama administration and how it made the deal. Namely, did the U.S. negotiate with terrorists and did the White House violate federal law by not notifying Congress in advance of the Taliban prisoners' transfer? Here's how the administration is responding.


CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We didn't negotiate with terrorists. As I said and explained before, Sergeant Bergdahl is a prisoner of war.

SUSAN RISE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: What we did was ensure that, as always, the United States doesn't leave a man or a woman on the battlefield. The Department of Defense consulted with the Department of justice, and it is our view that it was appropriate and necessary to do this in order to bring Sergeant Bergdahl back safely.


COSTELLO: Also this morning, some of Bergdahl's fellow soldiers are speaking out, voicing their concerns about his actions and how they led to his capture. Speaking to CNN's Jake Tapper, a member of Bergdahl's platoon, when he went missing said, quote, "Bowe Bergdahl deserted during a time of war and his fellow Americans lost their lives searching for him," end quote. And Bergdahl's squad leader says, "I'm pleased to see him return safely. I believe that an investigation should take place as soon as health care professionals deem him fit to endure one."

Here to talk about that, CNN political analyst and editor in chief at "The Daily Beast," John Avlon, and CNN political commentator and columnist for "The Blaze," Will Cain. Welcome, gentlemen.


COSTELLO: Good morning.


COSTELLO: OK, So Bowe Bergdahl was released. He'd been held by the Taliban for five long agonizing years. And not many people seem to be celebrating. How unusual is this, John Avlon?

AVLON: It's unusual for a P.O.W. release to get politicized so quickly. And it's complicated by the fact that you raised at the top here, Carol, which is that, according to members of his unit, Bowe Bergdahl was a deserter and members of his unit lost their lives trying to find him. so there are not a lot of fond feelings by those folks and it's understandable. This doesn't appear to be a profile in courage recovery. That said, we do have an obligation to bring every man home. He was gone for five years. And that should probably dampen some of the attempts to politicize this, but I don't think it will.

COSTELLO: Well, you could look at it this way, Will, according to WikiLeaks, right, they have a leaked conversation between these terrorists who abducted Bowe Bergdahl, and they said he was actually in the latrine unarmed when he was taken. It doesn't appear that he was deserting. He hasn't been charged with anything by the Army. So are we jumping to the conclusion too fast that he's a deserter?

CAIN: Well, yes, that statement. If we're jumping to the conclusion that he's a deserter, we need to find out everything first. By the way, whatever the words are of the Haqqani (ph) network, the terrorist organization that ended up with Bowe Bergdahl, I don't know how much weight we should give that. I believe there was also a report where they suggested they swooped in (INAUDIBLE) he was lagging behind on a patrol and grabbed him. But --

COSTELLO: Well, these were secret conversations and WikiLeaks released them. These weren't public statements they made.

CAIN: The point is, we don't know, right, because as John pointed out, many of his close friends, his close soldiers, his campadres over there, say he did, in fact, desert. We need to find these out. Look, there are questions at the end. And the questions are, one, should we be lionizing Bowe Bergdahl? I don't know. We'll have to find everything out.

And the second is, was this done correctly, Carol? When you complicate these matters, when you put all of this in, then add to the fact that we trade five high value Taliban terrorists back into Afghanistan, when you put all that in, what you arrive at is the question of whether or not we should lionize him and, separately, did the Obama administration break the law by releasing these hostages, releasing these - I'm sorry, prisoners, without giving Congress notice? The reason we have that law is because of this debate we're having right now, because this is complicated. That's where you end up, should they have obeyed the law? And clearly I think the answer is yes.

COSTELLO: Well, I was talking to Ambassador Richardson a short time ago, John, and he says that the Obama administration did not break the law. In fact, they had to negotiate in secret. It would spoil the negotiations and maybe Bowe Bergdahl would have never been released if the administration had consulted with Congress.

AVLON: Yes, that's what the administration is saying. There is a loophole here. And moreover, the urgency was given apparently by a change of status in Bowe Bergdahl's health. There was an urgency to getting this done that meant that some of the congressional actions that would normally be taken could not be in this case. But as you say, these negotiations have been going on for a while. That itself wasn't secret. And you do see the administration increasingly not simply waiting for congressional niceties when there are matters of appropriate urgency. And I do think the reality check that you mentioned at the top is important. We got a P.O.W. home. We'll figure out all the facts. But that's a good day for America because we do have a principle that we don't leave people behind and we didn't in this case (INAUDIBLE).

COSTELLO: Will, but you have - but don't you think you have to ask the question, Will, that if these terrorists return to killing Americans, right, and it's happened before when prisoners have been released from Guantanamo, right, we're trusting Qatar to keep these guys in line. We're not doing it ourselves, right?

CAIN: Right. Right. The deal supposedly suggests they'll remain in Qatar for a year.

Right, Carol, look, if this -- I think the only place you can arrive in this debate, the only place you can arrive at the end of the news cycle where we are right now is with questions. That's the only place. And as I said, I think the questions are, yes, John's right, it's a good day when an American comes home. Should he be lionized? Was he a deserter? Was he kidnapped? Those questions have to be answered.

And I think all of those questions just pressed upon, they give weight and importance to the question of, should you obey the law when it requires you to consult with Congress? If it is complicated - if it is complicated, that only lends to the fact that you should obey the law, that you should consult with Congress when trading prisoners and terrorists away from Guantanamo.

COSTELLO: John Avlon, Will Cain, thanks so much.

CAIN: You bet.

COSTELLO: Still to come in the NEWSROOM, Senator McCain calls those five Taliban detainees the toughest of the tough. But do they still pose a risk to national security? We'll dig deeper, next.


COSTELLO: All right, let's continue our conversation. Critics of the deal for Bowe Bergdahl's release are taking issue, not only with the freeing of those Taliban prisoners, but also with the fact that Congress was not notified of their transfer, which is required if detainees are released from Guantanamo Bay. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney defended the decision.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He was held in an armed conflict by the Taliban. We were engaged in an armed conflict with the Taliban. And we have a history in this country of making sure that our prisoners of war are returned to us. It's entirely appropriate given the determination made by the secretary of defense in consultation with the full national security team that their -- the threat potentially posed by the returned detainees was sufficiently mitigated to allow us to move forward and get Bowe Bergdahl back home where he belongs.


COSTELLO: All right, let's talk about that. Jonathan Turley is a law professor at George Washington University and Peter Bergan is a CNN national security analyst.

Good morning to you both.



COSTELLO: Good morning.

Jonathan, I want to start with you. Did the White House violate federal law?

TURLEY: They did. I don't think that the White House is seriously arguing that they're not violating federal law. And to make matters worse, this is a long series of violations of federal law that the president's been accused of. I just testified twice in Congress about this record of the president in suspending or ignoring federal laws. And this is going to add to that pile.

I don't think there's much debate that they're in violation of the law. What's fascinating, Carol, is when this law went to the president, he used a signing statement which, if you recall as a senator he opposed and ran against for president. But he actually used one in this circumstance and said, I'm going to sign this, but I actually think that that notice requirement is unconstitutional. And he's essentially arguing the very same principle of George Bush, that when it comes to Gitmo, he has almost absolute power, that it is his prerogative, his inherent authority to be able to make these decisions as he sees fit.

COSTELLO: Well, does it matter, because the administration says that the Department of Defense consulted with the Justice Department and that was enough. Does that matter? TURLEY: Well, unfortunately, the Justice Department has been involved in many of these controversies and they've tended to support presidential power. The federal law seems quite clear. And the fact that you have negotiations that have gone on for years really undermines the argument that this was a matter where time was of the essence. Clearly you have committees with classified proceedings, people who have been cleared for this information that could have been consulted. And this really is the reason they enacted the law. I have been a big critic of Gitmo. I think it should be shut down. But the law was passed and was signed, and it was precisely to address issues of controversy like this.

COSTELLO: So, Peter, administration officials also say they could not inform Congress and, of course, obey the letter of the law because it would impede negotiations. Are they right?

BERGEN: I think they are right, Carol. I mean Tom Donald famously said, there's a good way to keep a secret in Washington, which is, don't tell anyone. And these negotiations were incredibly tightly held. Very few people on the National Security Council and others were privy to those details. And, at the end of the day, making the deal without it leaking was essential to the deal happening.

COSTELLO: So it's just hard to believe that the president couldn't trust anyone in Congress to keep a secret, Peter.

BERGEN: Well, I mean, look at - I mean we've seen this in the past with the Osama bin Laden raid, which, after all, was a raid into another country that we're normally allied with. The administration kept that incredibly tightly held again because of concerns about leaks. And, you know, we live in Washington. It's a -- the town leaks like a sieve. So I think this was the right call.

COSTELLO: So as far as the danger that these five freed prisoners present to the United States, the potential danger, what is that, Peter?

BERGEN: Well, to be determined. I mean one important point is if they're under some form of surveillance for a year in Qatar, all of U.S. combat troops are going to be removed from Afghanistan at the end of this year. We'll have some kind of presence thereafter, but it won't be a combat presence.

And there's a bigger issue here, Carol which is at the end of hostilities, both sides traditionally swap prisoners. And we're coming to the end of conventional hostilities between these two groups. Is this, in fact, a precedent for other releases from Guantanamo? There are 18 other Afghans, much lower level that are being held there. And I think the answer probably is yes.

COSTELLO: OK so Jonathan, in light of all of that, should the President or others be prosecuted at all?

TURLEY: Well, the problem with this time of law is it's even hard to challenge it because of limitations of what are called standing. But I don't believe that Peter's argument -- and I respect Peter a great deal -- is really that persuasive in that the President can always claim that he had to violate federal law because he can't trust anyone in Congress. That's a way to circumvent all federal laws. That's not how we work in this country. A law was passed. He has to comply with it.

Now is he going to be prosecuted? No, he probably won't be. But that doesn't justify it. But more importantly, the concern that I think people are going to have going forward on something like this is that the President can repeat this argument in a myriad of other circumstances. That he just has to avoid saying anything to Congress because he doesn't want it to leak.

In this case there are legitimate questions about the price paid for the release of soldiers. I'm glad he's back. I think it is a cause of celebration. But the question going forward, are we going to negotiate with other people who take American citizens and not just U.S. soldiers. What will be the conditions upon which we place on those types of negotiations? What we lost here is not just the compliance the federal law, but there is the loss of that bright line rule as to the negotiation with terrorists.

And finally, I don't think the White House wants to argue that the Taliban is like an organized army. They -- just because they haven't been designated a terrorist organization, this administration has never made that to test they have treated people as terrorists in the future or in the past. And some of these guys have close ties with al Qaeda and one of them linked to hundreds if not thousands of deaths. I don't think they're going to argue that guy is anything but a terrorist.

COSTELLO: Well I will only bring up one more point and I know we're running short on time. But Peter, the types of wars we fight these days are with these terrorist groups. They're not necessarily with individual countries. So it complicates things, doesn't it?

BERGEN: Sure. I mean I think that's a very good point. It's a lot easier to negotiate with a state that, you know, where you know where the lines of responsibilities are. One of the reasons this was such a complicated negotiation is the multiple factions within the Taliban. It wasn't clear if the leader of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, was even really in control.

But I think this negotiation indicates that actually he is and that they were able to come to some kind of deal.

COSTELLO: Jonathan Turley, Peter Bergen, thanks for your insight.

TURLEY: Thanks Carol.

COSTELLO: I'll be right back.


COSTELLO: A frightening exchange in Turkey over the weekend as riot police in Istanbul detained a CNN correspondent and his crew live on the air. That's Ivan Watson there. He was reporting on demonstrations marking the one-year anniversary of the Taksim Square protests when this happened.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Often you get clashes erupting, demonstrators throwing rocks, bottles and police cracking down with their use of force as well. So -- excuse me. We're -- I think I'm getting -- I think I'm being --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just a minute may I see your passport?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Can I see your passport?

WATSON: Yes. So we're now being checked. OK. This is my press card. It allows me to work in Turkey.


COSTELLO: OK. So Ivan is joining us now from Turkey with more on his ordeal. You seem so calm during all of that.

WATSON: Well, Carol, getting shoved around and kind of intimidated and harassed by security forces kind of comes with the territory of being a foreign correspondent. I've been detained in Iran, in Russia. I've been knocked around by police in Turkey and other countries as well.

So -- so that kind of comes with the territory. This wasn't that bad. The difference is that it happened on live television so, you know, it generated a bit of buzz. And it also exposed a pattern that's been taking place in Turkey. A broader pattern that Turks are feeling the brunt of a trend where the government has been cracking down on dissent on critical journalism and the theme of the day on Saturday was anniversary of protests against the government.

The government said you're not allowed to protest against us. And in the hours after that incident, the government -- the security forces used tear gas and water cannons. I saw police with batons throwing rocks at demonstrators and chasing them through the streets and hitting them with batons. So what I experienced and what my crew experienced which involved me getting a knee in the posterior our camera and microphone being broken and then after a half hour after I was released the police asked me to sign a document where I would have confess to trying to block police work. But I wasn't allowed to do that in the presence of a lawyer and I also wasn't allowed to take a photo of a document to send to a lawyer.

That's just a little bit of what many more Turks face from the state and the security forces here in the country that Freedom House has dropped from being partially free to not free and what the organization Reporters without Borders describe as the world's worst jailer of journalists -- Carol. COSTELLO: So a lot of Americans travel to Istanbul for vacation. Is it safe to go there?

WATSON: Well, that's a good question. The Turkish government has used the argument for barricading the downtown of Istanbul, which is kind of like the Times Square of Turkey's largest city. They use the argument that they need to protect the tourism potential because there are so many hotels for foreigners. But like on that day they blocked pedestrians and vehicular traffic here so I saw these kind of foreigners from Europe, from Arab countries, dragging their suitcases around not knowing how to get around being held with bell hops.

The argument that the government uses to stop people from being able to criticize the government in public is freedom of passage but then it shuts down freedom of passage for everybody and it makes it very confusing. The number of times I've seen foreign tourists choking on tear gas in restaurants in this area is astounding. Pregnant women who have tear gas walked into their homes at night. Friends of mine who live here that has become part of -- if not monthly -- a monthly routine in Istanbul and in other Turkish cities is certainly almost a weekly occurrence here and it's made living in this area much less pleasant than it used to be.

I used to urge people to come and visit Istanbul and Turkey and now it's a lot harder for me to do because this has become an urban battleground week-after-week over the course of the last year as the government has tried to crush any public form of dissent.

COSTELLO: Tragic. Thanks for the good work, though, Ivan Watson reporting live from Istanbul this morning.

I'll be right back.


COSTELLO: Checking some "Top Stories" for you at 59 minutes past. The U.S. Marine jailed in Mexico says he was beaten, deprived of food and water and shackled naked. Sergeant Andrew Tahmooressi says conditions have improved since the media started covering his story. More than 100,000 people have signed a White House petition demanding his release.

Mexican authorities arrested Tahmooressi after he crossed the border with firearms in his car but the Marine and his family say he crossed the border by mistake.


BETH WHITNEY, ANDREW TAHMOORESSI'S AUNT: And he made the 911 call right at the checkpoint too. He declared that he didn't intend to be there. It was just a mistake. He just wanted to go back to the United States.


COSTELLO: A Mexican judicial source says the Marine's next court hearing will be on June 4th.