June 2, 2014 at 8:25 AM ET
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney defended the administration’s swap of an American prisoner of war for five Taliban leaders, saying the move did not threaten U.S. security.
“It was absolutely the right thing to do because the United States does not leave our men and women behind in armed conflict,” Carney said about the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was freed from five years of captivity in Afghanistan.
The White House announced over he weekend it swapped Bergdahl for five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay. The five men were transferred to Qatar, where they will remain under government supervision.
Taliban leader Mullah Omar called the trade a “great victory," but Carney told TODAY’s Matt Lauer that the exchange did not put the lives of Americans at risk, according to the determination by U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and the national security team.
“We believe this is not a security threat to the United States,” he said, dismissing the notion that the White House had negotiated with terrorists to secure the swap.
“We’ve made clear for years that we would aggressively engage in an effort to recover Sgt. Bergdahl. That’s what we do when our men and women are held as prisoners of war,” he said.
Carney said direct talks with the Taliban broke down in 2012. The administration had to speed up their efforts recently because of Bergdahl’s health problems, which Carney would not disclose but acknowledged: "His situation was worsening. That made it all the more urgent to secure his release.”
Carney warned critics against saying that the exchange set a dangerous precedent that allowed terrorists to think Americans can make a five-for-one swap in the future.
“I caution anyone against buying the propaganda of terrorists, first of all,” he said. “Secondly, it is absolutely a situation with a long history and precedent where we engage an exchange of prisoners during an armed conflict.”
Carney, who has served as press secretary for more than three years, last week announced he planned to step down from the post later this month.
He said he will miss the job, despite its highly intense pressure and scrutiny.
“This has been the most incredible experience. I feel so fortunate to have landed here in the White House,” he said, calling the job “an honor and a privilege.”
Carney, a former White House reporter for Time magazine, originally left journalism to work for Vice President Joe Biden before Obama asked him to join his staff.
“It’s the best job I could have ever had and I’m so grateful to the president and the vice president for the opportunity,” he said.