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Does Bergdahl swap set precedent?

By Elise Labott, CNN Foreign Affairs Reporter
updated 5:00 AM EDT, Tue June 3, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The State Department says Bergdahl's case does not set the stage for other exchanges
  • Alan Gross is being held in Cuba and Kenneth Bae is in North Korea
  • Other efforts to win the release of Americans being held overseas mired in controversy

(CNN) -- Could the exchange of five Taliban prisoners for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl set a precedent for swaps involving other countries holding U.S. military or diplomatic personnel?

The Obama administration says "no."

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki was asked by reporters whether the United States would consider releasing the three remaining members of the "Cuban Five," a group of men convicted of espionage in the late 1990s, for USAID contractor Alan Gross, who is jailed in Cuba.

These are photos, obtained by WikiLeaks that match the names of the detainees released by the Department of Defense. The Department of Defense would neither confirm nor deny their accuracy. Khair Ulla Said Wali Khairkhwa was an early member of the Taliban in 1994 and was interior minister during the Taliban's rule. He was arrested in Pakistan and was transferred to Guantanamo in May 2002. During questioning, Khairkhwa denied all knowledge of extremist activities. These are photos, obtained by WikiLeaks that match the names of the detainees released by the Department of Defense. The Department of Defense would neither confirm nor deny their accuracy. Khair Ulla Said Wali Khairkhwa was an early member of the Taliban in 1994 and was interior minister during the Taliban's rule. He was arrested in Pakistan and was transferred to Guantanamo in May 2002. During questioning, Khairkhwa denied all knowledge of extremist activities.
Guantanamo detainees swapped for Bergdahl
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Guantanamo detainees swapped Guantanamo detainees swapped
Alan Gross, at right with Rabbi Arthur Schneier, has been in Cuban custody since December 2009, when he was jailed while working as a subcontractor. Cuban authorities say Gross tried to set up illegal Internet connections on the island. Gross says he was just trying to help connect the Jewish community to the Internet. Former President Jimmy Carter and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson have both traveled to Cuba on Gross' behalf, but they were unable to secure his release. Alan Gross, at right with Rabbi Arthur Schneier, has been in Cuban custody since December 2009, when he was jailed while working as a subcontractor. Cuban authorities say Gross tried to set up illegal Internet connections on the island. Gross says he was just trying to help connect the Jewish community to the Internet. Former President Jimmy Carter and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson have both traveled to Cuba on Gross' behalf, but they were unable to secure his release.
Americans detained abroad
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Photos: Americans detained abroad Photos: Americans detained abroad
Friend shares memories of Bergdahl
Coulter: Bergdahl was not 'left behind'

Fellow soldiers call Bergdahl a deserter

Havana has repeatedly told the Obama administration it wanted to negotiate a deal, saying the men were not spies and were only monitoring exile groups responsible for attacks against Cuba.

Gross, who was working for the U.S. Agency for International Development when he was arrested, was charged by a Cuban court in 2011 of being an American spy. USAID has said he was in the country working on a U.S. government project setting up satellite internet connections.

Cuban officials tell CNN the United States refuses to engage on the issue.

Psaki said the administration remains opposed to such a trade and stressed that Bergdahl's case was an extraordinary measure to free a prisoner of war.

What's next for Bergdahl?

The Obama administration justified the operation due to Bergdahl's health and safety, which appeared in jeopardy.

"In any case, whether it's Alan Gross or Kenneth Bae or others who are detained American citizens, we take every step possible to make the case and to -- take steps to ensure their return home to the United States," she said.

Gross's health has been an issue. And Bae is a Korean-American convicted by North Korea on charges of trying to overthrow the government.

'To me, he is still an American'
Bergdahl recovers from captivity

In April 2013, he was sentenced to 13 years in prison. Bae's family is also worried about his health. He is widely reported to have been carrying out Christian missionary work in North Korea.

"We look at each case differently," Psaki said.

There have been other instances when a U.S. administration sought to negotiate the release of Americans being held in non-military situations.

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter tried to broker the release of the American hostages in Iran.

And in 1985, President Ronald Reagan approved secret arms sales to Iran in an effort to secure the release of seven American hostages being held by Iranians in Lebanon. That was the core of what became the Iran-Contra affair.

The deal for Bergdahl also raises questions about the United States and present day Iran.

Would the United States, for example, release Iranians serving American-imposed prison terms for violating sanctions or weapons trafficking in exchange for Bob Levinson, the longest-held American hostage in U.S. history?

Levinson, a former FBI agent disappeared in 2007 in Iran. It has since been revealed he was working for a group of CIA analysts without authorization of the agency's leadership.

Iran has long denied any involvement in Levinson's disappearance, but U.S. officials have said they believe he is alive and have urged the Iranian government to help secure his release.

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