John McCain Was For Trading Taliban Prisoners For Sgt. Bergdahl Before He Was Against It

In the days since Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was freed from Taliban captivity in exchange for five prisoners held at the prison at Guantanamo Bay, one of the strongest critics of the deal has been Arizona Senator John McCain:

Current and former U.S. officials welcomed the return of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only American soldier held prisoner in Afghanistan, but voiced concern about the release of five members of the Taliban who had been held at the Guantanamo Bay as part of a negotiated prisoner swap.

“These are the hardest of the hard core. These are the highest high-risk people, and others that we have released have gone back into the fight,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in an interview on “Face the Nation,” adding that he was disturbed the Taliban named the prisoners they wanted in exchange for Bergdahl’s freedom.

“We need to know more information about the conditions of where they are going to be,” McCain added. “It is disturbing that these individuals would have the ability to reenter the fight.”


For McCain, the chief concern is what will happen to the detainees once they are released.

“If they reenter the fight then it is going to put American lives at risk and none of us want that to happen…if they are able to have after a year in Qatar to do whatever they want to do there’s no doubt they will reenter the fight,” he said.

Interestingly, McCain was singing a different tune four months ago:

Sen. John McCain says he now would be inclined to support trading a Taliban prisoner held at Guantanamo Bay for a U.S. soldier held captive in Afghanistan.

In 2012, McCain called the idea of negotiating with the Taliban “bizarre” and “highly questionable,” but on Tuesday he said on CNN’s ”Anderson Cooper 360″ that he would be open to a swap now being discussed.

U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has been held by a group with ties to the Taliban for almost four years, and the group has demanded the United States release five Taliban prisoners in exchange for him.

The Washington Post reported that U.S. officials confirmed that talks among diplomats and the Pentagon were under way. The official U.S. policy is not to negotiate with terrorists, but the military is winding down operations there by the end of the year and could risk leaving Bergdahl behind, CNN noted.

McCain said his stance has changed only because the previous proposal was to release five “hard-core” Taliban leaders as a “confidence-building measure.” The current proposal would be an actual exchange of prisoners.

“I would be inclined to support such a thing, depending on a lot of details,” he said.

What a difference four months makes.

Update: There’s also been some flip-flopping on this issue from the White House.

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs, National Security, Terrorism, US Politics, , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. C. Clavin says:

    Why is anyone paying attention to this old fool?
    I’d sooner listen to Jenos “Tragedy of the Commons” Indiana.

  2. rudderpedals says:

    I wonder if the North Vietnamese got the better of our trade for Admiral McCain’s son. Imagine what might not have been.

  3. C. Clavin says:

    Was there and exchange for McCain?
    I can’t find anything on that.

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    What a difference four months minutes makes.

    FTFY Doug. 4 mins is how long it took for him to hear it happened, process that information and formulate a response. He probably was already booked on the show.

  5. rudderpedals says:

    @C. Clavin: I was really young and I don’t recall the details. I watched the arrival of his batch of POWs on TV. The war was over for us. It was a big deal on all of the networks. It was moving even for a kid. Most of the men looked like they’d been hurt and then kept in a dungeon for years.

  6. al-Ameda says:

    Oh look, it’s Pretend That We’re Principled Time again in Washington, yay!

    John McCain is almost – almost – a parody of himself by now. All it would take to push him into jump-the-shark territory would be if he won the GOP nomination for president and proposed that Sarah Palin be his running mate.

  7. beth says:

    Doesn’t this kind of throw water on the argument that the President did this in strict secrecy and never notified Congress? From what I’ve seen, this exact deal was discussed with them in January and they knew it could be forthcoming. While it may not have happened within the 30 days specified by the bill, you can’t say Congress knew nothing about it.

  8. Ron Beasley says:

    Get off my lawn.

  9. Tillman says:

    The official U.S. policy is not to negotiate with terrorists, but the military is winding down operations there by the end of the year and could risk leaving Bergdahl behind, CNN noted.

    The Taliban aren’t terrorists. Not unless we’re equating “people who shelter terrorists” with terrorists themselves. And even if they were, the maxim that we don’t negotiate with terrorists has been proven wrong long before Obama’s time.

  10. Jinglebob says:

    @C. Clavin: But to be fair here. He said trade for Taliban prisoners, how many, who? Certainly not the five that Obama went for, not the leadership.

  11. humanoid.panda says:

    @C. Clavin: What’s the story behind the Tragedy of Commons joke? I like to follow idiocy, and I missed that one..

  12. Grewgills says:

    Sorry, was trying to clean up edits and timed out.
    It starts with @Jenos Idanian #13: , traverses a couple of threads and is continuing @Jenos Idanian #13: . His complete inability to admit he is flat out wrong is a bit amusing.