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FBI Manhunt; American POW Coming Home; "We Didn't Negotiate with Terrorists"

Aired June 2, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The soldier believed to have been the only American POW in Afghanistan is finally coming home, but not everybody is celebrating.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The world lead, five members of the Taliban freed from Gitmo to get back a single American. Critics say the U.S. just put a new going rate on the heads of American soldiers. And why are some of Bergdahl's comrades saying he wasn't worth it?

The national lead, explosive materials allegedly found in his San Francisco home. What was he planning? Well, the FBI is anxious to ask him, but they got to find him first and they need your help.

And the politics lead. You know the zip code. You know the stars who live there, but did you know there's a political battle going on in Beverly Hills right now that is as insane as any reality show?

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We will begin with the world lead. After five years in enemy hands, Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is currently listed in stable condition at a U.S. military hospital in Germany. Bergdahl is a free man today, thanks to the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that set up a prisoner trade with the Taliban, which caused a lot of controversy back home.

Events moved fast, and there was fear until the very last minute that something could go wrong. In recent days, U.S. and Taliban negotiators put the pieces of the deal in place. In the final hours before the swap, American special operations forces made the unusual move of communicating directly with the Taliban, according to a U.S. official.

U.S. commandos secretly flew to a point near the Afghan/Pakistan border for the trade. While helicopter gunships, planes and drones scoped the area, a single U.S. helicopter landed the American troops inside armed to the teeth.

They found there 18 Taliban waiting for them, along with Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. The moment Bergdahl had waited five years for had finally arrived. Bergdahl was able to walk, according to a U.S. official. The Americans quickly confirmed his identity, hustled him onto the chopper and booked him. The exchange took maybe 30 seconds. Inside the chopper, Bergdahl wrote the initials S.F. It was too loud to speak, S.F., asking if these men were special forces. Yes, they responded. And they had been looking for him for a very long time. It was then that we're told that Bergdahl finally broke down.

Now, simultaneously, on the other side of the world at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, guards were ordered to hand over five Taliban detainees to officials from the country of Qatar who were acting as middlemen in a prisoner swap.

Handing these five Taliban over, a decision that is not sitting well with many of the president's critics. And while Bergdahl was believed to be the only remaining prisoner of the Afghan war, the circumstances of his capture remain extraordinarily murky, with some of his fellow troops suggesting he was at fault for essentially walking into enemy hands.

Now, while the ordeal for Bergdahl's long-suffering loved ones is coming to an end, many of his fellow soldiers do not believe he should get a hero's welcome back home.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, it's a good day.

TAPPER (voice-over): Welcome news for Bowe Bergdahl's parents. Their son, America's only known prisoner of war, was released by his Taliban captors and coming home to Idaho.

JANI BERGDAHL, MOTHER OF BOWE BERGDAHL: Five years is a seemingly endless long time, but you have made it.

TAPPER: But new details coming to light about how Bergdahl's freedom was both lost and regained complicate any planned ticker tape parades.

These are the faces of five mid- to high-level prisoners smiling as they are released from Guantanamo Bay to Qatar in exchange for Bergdahl. Though trading four hostages or prisoners of war is not unprecedented in American history, this latest swap has opponents.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have sent a message to every al Qaeda group in the world that says that there is some value now in that hostage in a way that they didn't have before.

TAPPER: The Obama administration defends the deal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The United States of America does not leave our men and women in uniform behind, ever.

TAPPER: Bergdahl is currently in Germany, where his physical and mental health are the priorities. One of his first tasks is relearning English.

BOB BERGDAHL, FATHER OF BOWE BERGDAHL: I hope your English is coming back. And I want you to know that I love you. I'm proud of you. I'm so proud of your character.


TAPPER: His parents' joy notwithstanding, more than a dozen soldiers who served with Bergdahl call him a deserter. They tell CNN he purposefully left the observation post. An Afghan child told some of them he saw an American soldier that morning walking by himself.

On NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel deferred questions about how Bergdahl came to be in enemy hands.

CHUCK HAGEL, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: I'm not surprised that there are still questions. And until we get the facts, exactly what the condition of Sergeant Bergdahl is, we can't go much further in speculating.

TAPPER: Soldiers on the ground at the time tell CNN that insurgents were able to take advantage of the massive military undertaking to try to rescue Bergdahl, with IEDs placed more effectively and ambushes more calculated.

At least six Americans were killed in that effort over the following weeks, troops on the ground tell CNN. Staff Sergeant Clayton Bowen, Private 1st Class Morris Walker, Staff Sergeant Kurt Curtiss, 2nd Lieutenant Darryn Andrews, Private 1st Class Matthew Martinek; Staff Sergeant Michael Murphrey.

For their parents, this moment will never come.

OBAMA: Bob and Jani, today, families across America share in the joy that I know you feel.

TAPPER: Many soldiers are furious.

The Facebook page "Bowe Bergdahl Is Not a Hero" was started by one of Bergdahl's former squad leaders. It has nearly 6,000 members. A petition to punish Bergdahl for going AWOL was started hours after his release.

People who served with Bergdahl want answers, if not a court-martial for desertion. But defense officials tell CNN that the sergeant will likely not face punishment. Today, he may be promoted to staff sergeant later this month.


TAPPER: For five years, the soldiers who served with Bergdahl largely stayed silent about his disappearance and the efforts to find him. Many of them had been asked by the military to sign nondisclosure agreements about the matter.

But now that he's free, they are coming forward to talk, regardless of the consequences.

Let's bring in former Army Sergeant Josh Korder.

Josh, good to see you.

You served with Bergdahl in Blackfoot Company, 2nd Platoon in Afghanistan, and you were recently discharged from the military. E- mails reported by the late Michael Hastings in "Rolling Stone" in 2012 say that Bergdahl's e-mails to his parents was telling people he no longer supported the U.S. effort in Afghanistan.

He wrote to his parents -- quote -- "I have seen their ideas" -- about his commanding officer. He said: "I am ashamed to even be American. The horror of the self-righteous arrogance that they thrive in, it is all revolting." He said that he was embarrassed to be an American.

Did he ever express anything like that to you personally?


Pretty much, as soon as we had gone to Afghanistan and things started to turn a little bit harder for all of us, he immediately started separating himself away from us and everyone in the platoon and started gravitating more towards the Afghan soldiers.

TAPPER: Did he ever say that he didn't support the effort in the war anymore to you?

KORDER: I didn't hear it directly out of his mouth, but I did hear very often people talking about it.

I think I overheard a conversation once where he was talking to someone on the phone about it. He always was trying to spread that word to people. He was never really happy about it.

TAPPER: Why do you think he left the observation post that morning?

KORDER: Honestly, I think he just wanted to go on an adventure without having anybody to answer to, without having anything to worry about.

He wanted to be able to go out and see Afghanistan for himself without the Army stopping him or having to tell him what to do. I think he was just trying to, you know, go on an adventure.

TAPPER: And I know from talking to you earlier and also more than a dozen of your fellow soldiers with the 501st and other units, a lot of people are upset because so many men were lost in the search for him.

In fact, you have the names of two of those soldiers lost tattooed on your back. I believe Martinek and Andrews and Foster (ph), three of them I see now, Blackfoot Company.

Tell me about these men. And does this make you angry about Bergdahl's release?

KORDER: In a way, it really does.

It's very frustrating to me to turn on the TV and to see Bergdahl's family on the TV being shown to everyone, and then these soldiers, although they had very beautiful and extravagant ceremonies after they died, were pretty much only recognized in the local news, local newspapers.

They were never nationally televised for their sacrifices in the way that he is. And he pretty much voluntarily walked away and in turn caused the actions that may have killed them.

TAPPER: I know the parents of one of them who -- of one of those soldiers who died, he died on the same day that Michael Jackson died, and he was very upset that not as much attention or even a minuscule amount of attention went to that death.

Now, as to what should happen to Bowe Bergdahl, Greg Leatherman, who I believe you know, he was a former squad leader. He said -- quote -- "I'm pleased to see him return safely. From experience, I hope that he receives adequate reintegration counseling. I believe that an investigation should take place as soon as health care professionals deem him Bergdahl to endure one."

I have talked to other soldiers who think that he should be court- martialed for desertion. What do you think?

KORDER: I mean, by no means do I think that he needs to be pulled out of the hospital and brought before anybody right now during this time.

I mean, I do understand that his family has had him gone for this period of time without any or very limited contact with him. And I understand that they probably want to, you know, reunite some of those bonds. Even soldiers in prison get to speak to their families from time to time.

So I understand that.


KORDER: But, as soon as he's able and as soon as he's fit, I do believe that he needs to be questioned and basically tried, if necessary.

TAPPER: For leaving the observation post and for deserting the unit?


Any of us would have died for him while he was with us, and then for him to just leave us like that, it was a very big betrayal.

TAPPER: Now, you and lots of other soldiers signed a nondisclosure agreement with the military. I have really never heard of anything like this happening on such a widespread scale for regular joes, as opposed to special forces.

Are you worried now that the military is going to try to punish you for talking?

KORDER: I mean, it's certainly a possibility. But I don't think that I could have continued to go on without being able to share with you and the people the true things that happened in this situation, because if you guys aren't made aware of it, it will just go on, he will be a hero, and nobody is going to be able to know the truth.

TAPPER: And the truth that you want people to know is that he left, he deserted, in your view, and that good men died trying to find him?

KORDER: I mean, he's, at best, a deserter and, at worst, a traitor.

TAPPER: Former Sergeant Josh Korder, thank you for talking to us and thank you for your service.

KORDER: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up on THE LEAD: a day five years in the making. So how did the U.S. finally work out the release of Bowe Bergdahl? I will ask two men who have been part of the negotiations. That's coming up next.

And later, it's the hottest race in Beverly Hills since Brandon Walsh ran for student body president, the House seat open for the first time in decades, and now Hollywood money could decide who gets it.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Continuing our world lead, the release of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five Taliban prisoners detained at Guantanamo Bay, now at Qatar, critics are accusing the Obama administration of negotiating with terrorists to free Bergdahl, even setting a price for it.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says that's just not true.


CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We didn't negotiate with terrorists. As I said and explained before, Sergeant Bergdahl is a prisoner of war. That's a normal process in getting your prisoners back.


TAPPER: The entire process, years in the making, has raised questions about whether this will increase American kidnappings overseas and if Bergdahl's release was worth the freedom of these five dangerous men.

Joining me now to talk about it is Jeremy Bash, who was former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's chief of staff during the early stages of these negotiations. He's now the managing director of Beacon Global Strategies, which is a strategic advisory group.

Also joining us is retired Colonel Chris Kolenda. He just returned from his fourth tour in Afghanistan. He was a senior adviser to the Defense Department and has advised three ISAF commanders. I should also disclose, he's one of the main characters in my book about Afghanistan, "The Outpost," and spent a lot of time in that country doing some very dangerous work.

Chris, Jeremy, good to see you, as always.

So, first, just to respond to the things -- the very strong charges made by Bowe Bergdahl's former colleagues, not just Jeremy who we heard from, but others, Josh Korder, but others, but does that matter? When you're talking about trying to get him home, does it matter how he came to leave the observation post or any of the questions, Jeremy?

JEREMY BASH, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF, DEFENSE SECRETARY LEON PANETTA: No, I don't think it does. In fact, in all of the conversations that I was in and Chris was in it as well, in the Pentagon in 2011 and 2012, about a potential deal, that never came up, nor should it.

TAPPER: But everybody knew it. You all knew it.

BASH: We were aware of the stories and the claims, but no one ever said he walked off or he was taken or here's how he was taken, therefore we shouldn't try to get him back.

TAPPER: It didn't factor at all, Chris?

CHRIS KOLENDA, PRESIDENT & CEO, KOLENDA STRATEGIC LEADERSHIP: No. And you can see the emotion here both on the Bergdahl family and Josh Korder and other folks. These facts will come out over time.

The good news is, Bowe Bergdahl is back. He'll be able to tell his side of the story and right now, we need to focus on his health and reintegration.

TAPPER: When you talk about how this came up in 2010, 2011, my understanding is that -- well, obviously it didn't happen when you guys were negotiating it.


TAPPER: What changed? Was the deal significantly different?

BASH: Well, the Taliban proposed a deal and Chris was involved in these discussions in which they would get five of their guys back. Very bad guys, I should say. We shouldn't sugarcoat this at all.

TAPPER: The same five?

BASH: The same five. It was part of the confidence building measures for Taliban reconciliation.

Well, Secretary Panetta at the time and others in our government said no, this is not a good enough deal. The assurances are not good enough that they won't rejoin the fight, and the legal standard at the time I should point out, the legal standard was very high. They required us to ensure that the country to which we were returning these five guys would prevent them getting back into a fight. Now, a couple of things have changed, Jake. First, we've got only six months left in the combat mission. I think we wanted to make sure we got him back before our combat mission ended. Second is his health was clearly deteriorating. That's a factor that Secretary Hagel and others point to yesterday when they explained this decision. Third, Congress saw fit to lower the legal standard and give the secretary of defense a little more flexibility now to say, hey, if there are some mitigating standards, if we can mitigate the risk to our troops and forces, it's OK to do a deal like this if it's in the interest of national security.

TAPPER: Chris, I think one of the issues that I hear from a lot of people who object to this deal is, first of all, it's not a deal made with nation state. It's a deal made with the Taliban, which is a terrorist organization. And second of all, is it really worth, to be crude, five mid-to senior level Taliban members for one U.S. soldier?

KOLENDA: Let me just first add to something Jeremy said, which is the Taliban had -- the travel ban on these detainees had not been agreed earlier. The fact that the Taliban caved to our demands for the travel ban --

TAPPER: What does that mean? They just can't leave Qatar.

KOLENDA: That's right. They're under supervised living and they can't leave the country.

TAPPER: What's -- is it a halfway house, like a club fit? What supervised living? I'm trying to be --

KOLENDA: No, I don't -- certainly not privy to all of the details but, yes, there will be some monitoring and supervision ongoing for the Taliban. The bottom line is they can't leave for at least a year and the Taliban caved to those demands after some very hard-nosed negotiations by some people in the State Department. So, I think that's very important to understand it's part of the game changer that allowed this effort to take praise.

TAPPER: What about the issue that this is -- we were negotiating with a terrorist group, not with a nation -- this wasn't negotiations with Iran, or North Korea, this was a ragtag group of terrorists that the U.S. State Department considers terrorists?

KOLENDA: It's one of the regular challenges of warfare, when you're fighting with people they are not state actors, they are non-state actors. For clarification, the U.S. has not designated the Taliban as a foreign terrorist organization under executive order 13224, nor has the United Nations designated them as a terrorist.

TAPPER: They are not a terrorist organization?

KOLENDA: We have not designated them as a terrorist organization.


KOLENDA: Now, their rule from 1996 to 2001 was cruel, benighted, misogynistic and tyrannical. There are people and their forces, you know, these five were part of that rule. Their people, their forces engaged in gross human rights violations.

And, as Jeremy pointed out, these are certainly very dangerous people. If they were to be released, the likelihood that they would return to the fight is high and that's why they are under --

TAPPER: But for one year, right, they are under supervision for one year?

KOLENDA: That's right.

BASH: Now, let me address the issue about negotiating with terrorists. You know, the state of Israel, another democracy, gave up more than 1,000 prisoners that were held in the -- Palestinian prisoners that were held in Israeli jails, exchange for one, Corporal Gilad Shalit, and they did that even though the prisoners that were in the Israeli jails have some -- the blood of 500 Israelis on their hands, and that's because they lived up to an ethos, that I think we do here in our country, that you leave no man behind. That's an essential bargain we cut with our service members. We will not leave you behind.

TAPPER: I want to play some sound from Congressman Buck McKeon. He's chair of the House Armed Services Committee. You know, Congress feels like they were not adequately notified about this. Let's play that sound.

Mike Rogers, I'm sorry. This is Congressman Mike Rogers talking about this deal.


REP. MIKE ROGERS (R-MI), CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Across northern Africa, the number one way al Qaeda raises money is by ransom, kidnapping and ransom. We have now set a price.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: What does this tell terrorists -- that if you capture a U.S. soldier, you can trade that soldier for five terrorists? That's a very dangerous price.


TAPPER: So, that's Mike Rogers and Ted Cruz. Your response?

BASH: Again, it's a classical ethical dilemma, how many will you trade to save one, one of your own, an American prisoner of war?

And our tradition in our country has been that we will do almost anything to get an American prisoner of war back. Of course, we're concerned about emboldening the bad guys and emboldening the terrorists, but it's a calculation that you have to make. You have to look at what the law requires, what the mitigating standards are, and whether his health is deteriorating to the fact that one or two more months could be, in fact, too late. TAPPER: Chris, you have fought against insurgents in Afghanistan. You have lost good men fighting insurgents in Afghanistan, Tom Bastik (ph), Brian Fritchey (ph), Jacob Lole (ph). Do you feel that this has put others at greater risk than they already were?

KOLENDA: And I' add to that, Chris Pifer (ph).

TAPPER: Chris Pifer, I'm sorry, yes.

KOLENDA: David Boors (ph), and Adrian Hike (ph), who were killed in a different area. But yes, I've fought Taliban. You know, I've been in firefights with them.

I hear them talking on the walkie-talkies about their desire to get a U.S. soldier as a prisoner. This is an ongoing desire for them. We have a desire to take some of them as detainees.

So the fact that there's an exchange five years after he was captured is highly unlikely to create greater incentive than there already is and I don't believe it's going to place U.S. soldiers at greater risk than they already are. Enemy combatants, by definition, want to take U.S. soldiers as prisoners.

TAPPER: All right. Chris Kolenda, Jeremy Bash, thank you so much for your insights. We appreciate you being here.

Coming up, it's home to the rich and famous, many of whom are taking sides in a crazy battle for the open house seat representing -- na, na, na -- Beverly Hills. So, who is backing the Hollywood director and which candidate has a pop star's campaign song?

Plus, an FBI manhunt, after bombs are allegedly found in a San Francisco home. But what led authorities to the apartment in the first place?