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Bergdahl is focus of debates

As Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl recuperates at a military hospital in Germany and the five Taliban soldiers swapped for him enjoy their first days of freedom in Qatar, pundits and politicians on Sunday continued to debate whether the prisoner exchange was wise.

Critics of the prisoner swap were careful not to criticize President Barack Obama's decision to try and rescue Bergdahl, despite Bergdahl's decision to allegedly walk off a U.S. military base. Rather, they centered on the terms of the deal, in which the United States traded the five Taliban detainees, some of whom are considered high risk.

"I believe there are other prisoners, some of whom we have already released, that we could have released in exchange," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said on CNN's State of the Union. "These five are the top five picked by the Taliban. Not by us, but by the Taliban."

On Fox News Sunday, conservative journalist Stephen Hayes tried to offer additional perspective: "The administration went to court to keep one of these five in jail at Guantanamo just three years ago because he was such a huge risk, such a risk to U.S. national security," Hayes, who writes for the Weekly Standard, said. "And now they're letting him walk."

We focused on Hayes' claim that "the administration went to court to keep one of these five in jail at Guantanamo just three years ago because he was such a huge risk." That rates Half True.

Hayes is correct that the Obama administration fought in court to keep one of the now-free prisoners, Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa, at a Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility. But it wasn't explicitly because "he was such a huge risk."

Khairkhwa, captured in 2002, was appealing for his release, saying he was being held illegally. In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Guantanamo detainees had the right to challenge the legality of their confinement.

At question in the case wasn't whether the administration considered Khairkhwa a risk. They didn't have to prove that, as the court made that clear in its ruling. "The government's authority to detain an enemy combatant is not dependent on whether an individual would pose a threat to the United States or its allies if released," the court wrote.

Rather, the administration simply had to prove that, under the Authorization for Use of Military Force granted by Congress, Khairkhwa was a member of the Taliban or al-Qaida or associated forces at the time of his capture.

The United States had ample evidence to make its case. Khairkhwa was part of the Taliban's highest governing body and was a known associate of Osama bin Laden.

Another claim we heard about the Bergdahl case didn't come on Sunday, but we thought it was worth checking.

It came from an unlikely defender of Obama, conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer. He has supported the prisoner swap, describing it as an unattractive part of doing business.

"We have long engaged — and all other countries in the West have long engaged — in hostage swaps where the West always comes out on the short end," Krauthammer told Fox News host Bret Baier last week. "And the reason is that we put a value on an individual human life the way that the barbarians at the other end of the table don't."

To demonstrate that other Western countries have been on the short end of such swaps, Krauthammer cited an Israeli hostage exchange from 2011.

"The best example is the Israelis, who gave up 1,000 terrorists in return for one sergeant," Kraut­hammer said.

His claim rates True.

In 2006, the Islamic militant organization Hamas captured Israeli Sgt. Gilad Shalit after tunneling into Israel and attacking an army outpost. Israel's first attempt to free Shalit, by launching a military invasion into Hamas-controlled Gaza, failed.

Shalit was held captive for five years and returned home on Oct. 18, 2011, following Israel's freeing of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners.

It's not clear that all 1,027 were "terrorists," but some were indeed terrorists serving several life sentences for killing Israeli citizens. (And the definition of "terrorist" varies a lot depending on who is using the term.)

Steve Contorno, Shannon Beckham and Katie Sanders contributed to this report. Aaron Sharockman is the editor of

The statement

The Obama administration "went to court to keep one of these five in jail at Guantanamo just three years ago because he was such a huge risk."

Stephen Hayes, on Fox News Sunday

The ruling

Hayes is right that the Obama administration argued in court to keep Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa at Guantanamo, but he misrepresented why officials did so. It was not because he was seen as a "huge risk." We rate Hayes' claim Half True.

The statement

The Israelis "gave up 1,000 terrorists in return for one sergeant."

Charles Krauthammer, on Fox News

The ruling

In 2011, Israel freed 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Sgt. Gilad Shalit, who had been held captive by Hamas since 2006. While we can't confirm that all 1,027 were terrorists, some definitely were, and the definition of "terrorist" is fuzzy. We rate the statement True.

Bergdahl is focus of debates 06/08/14 [Last modified: Sunday, June 8, 2014 10:23pm]
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