Skip to main content

Susan Rice defends Bergdahl comments, calls his service 'honorable'

By Jim Acosta, CNN Senior White House Correspondent
updated 12:02 PM EDT, Fri June 6, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • CNN conducts interview with National Security Adviser Susan Rice
  • Bowe Berghdahl is being "tried in the court of public opinion," Rice says
  • Rice says she never intentionally misled the public on Benghazi or Bergdahl
  • She regrets that the information she provided on Benghazi was wrong

Colleville-sur-Mer, FRANCE (CNN) -- President Barack Obama's national security adviser said Friday that her full-throated praise of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was appropriate given the former Taliban prisoner's willingness to go to war for his country -- despite questions about whether or not he deserted his Army colleagues.

Susan Rice, who on Sunday said Bergdahl served the United States with "honor and distinction," told CNN in an interview that she was speaking about the fact the Idaho native enlisted and went to Afghanistan in the service of his country.

Rice: Bergdahl deserves 'due process'

"I realize there has been lots of discussion and controversy around this," Rice said. "But what I was referring to was the fact that this was a young man who volunteered to serve his country in uniform at a time of war. That, in and of itself, is a very honorable thing."

Rice: Allies have confidence in Obama

The Obama administration has come under fire for the decision to trade five Taliban prisoners previously held at Guantanamo Bay for Bergdahl, who was held for nearly five years.

Some soldiers who served with Bergdahl have claimed he deserted his post in Afghanistan.

An Army-led investigation, which was conducted in the months after Bergdahl disappeared in 2009, found he left the outpost deliberately and on his own free will, according to a military official who was briefed on the report.

Rice on Syria aid

Is the U.S. negotiating with terrorists?
Negotiating the release of Bowe Bergdahl

There was no definitive finding that Bergdahl deserted, because that would require knowing his intent -- something Army officials couldn't do without talking to the soldier.

The military said it is investigating the matter further.

Rice said Friday that it was essential for the military to hear Bergdahl's side of the story before coming to conclusions about what prompted his capture by the Taliban.

The six soldiers at center of Bergdahl debate

"This is a young man whose circumstances we are still going to learn about," she said. "He is, as all Americans, innocent until proven guilty. He's now being tried in the court of public opinion after having gone through enormously traumatic five years of captivity."

If the military finds reason to believe Bergdahl deserted his Army comrades, consequences will be delivered, Rice said.

"But in the meantime, let's remember this is a young man who volunteered to serve his country. He was taken as a prisoner of war. He suffered in captivity," she continued. "He's now trying to begin the process of recovery. Let's let that happen. And then let's know the facts including his side of the story, and then we can make a judgment."

Rice's comments last weekend weren't the first time she prompted criticism over an appearance on one of Washington's Sunday talk shows. In September 2012, she appeared on several programs following the attack on the American diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya -- and asserted the incident was prompted by a spontaneous protest against an anti-Muslim video made in the United States.

The administration later acknowledged the attack was a terrorist assault on the U.S. compound.

The "Susan Rice talking points" have become a political flashpoint, spurring congressional investigations, administration explanations, and -- potentially -- a major headache for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton if she runs for president in 2016.

Rice has said she was simply providing the best information the administration had at the time -- and on Friday, she contended that just because the information she provided that day turned out to be inaccurate doesn't mean she's willfully misleading Americans.

"I'm upfront with the American people and I always do my best on behalf of my country and I do my best to tell the facts as I know them," she said.

In the case of Benghazi, Rice said she "provided the best information that the U.S. government had at the time.

"Parts of it turned out to be wrong," she said. "I regret that the information I was provided was wrong, that I delivered to the American people. That doesn't make me a liar. That makes me a public servant trying to say what we knew at the time."

CNN's Matt Hoye, Laura Bernardini and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT