Interviews

McCain talks reintegration process amid Bergdahl's return

Soldier is back on American soil

 

This is a rush transcript from "Your World," June 16, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: All right, we are going to continue monitoring this press conference, and keep it on a split-screen here, just to bring you up to speed.

But one of the surprises early on came out that Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, as of yet, still has not talked or communicated with his parents, and his parents are not in Texas with him at this time.

We are also learning a little bit about Sergeant Bergdahl's captivity, that , for a good part of the two years, we are told, he was in solitary confinement in a six-by-six-foot cell.

What is not clear is which two years those were. Could it have anything to do with the time he tried to escape and was it two years after that, and then at which time did he have more liberal freedoms to move around and go outside, even play soccer with his captors?

There's much we don't know. We are monitoring this.

But we thought it would be a good thing to talk too about someone who knows about this reintegration process, a fellow who went through it himself. You know him as John McCain, the former presidential candidate, of course a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War for close to seven years.

MCCAIN: Five-and-a-half.

CAVUTO: I apologize.

Senator, the -- the reintegration process, you went through that. What does that involve?

MCCAIN: Well, in our case, we had a different experience near the end, where we were put together in large groups of prisoners.

And during that period of time, it -- the reintegration process sort of went on. I mean, we were able to talk to each other, be -- socialize and everything like that. So it was very different from Sergeant Bergdahl's experience, by himself. And...

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: Did you have -- for example, when you knew you were going to be released, and in fact you were released...

MCCAIN: Yes. Yes.

CAVUTO: ... how quickly did you talk to family members or did you close off or...

MCCAIN: Well, as soon as we landed in the Philippines, there were -- we were taken to the airport there in Hanoi and then landed in the Philippines, and were able to talk right away.

It's -- it's very different in Bergdahl's case. He went from this very tough situation to back in society, so to speak to -- and in ours, we had been together as a group. I spent a couple years in solitary confinement, but that was earlier on.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: So, the last couple years were not in solitary confinement?

MCCAIN: No, no. And last...

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: But do you read anything significant, Senator, that he has, even now, not communicated with his parents?

MCCAIN: I don't know, honestly.

CAVUTO: Right.

MCCAIN: I know it's been a very difficult time for him and great strain mentally. I know the period that I was in solitary confinement, it was pretty tough.

But it's so different. It's hard for me, except to know that, right now, he probably deserves a lot of our patience.

CAVUTO: Yes. Did you know at the time that -- he might be oblivious to all the press and the controversy.

MCCAIN: Oh, yes, we knew about it.

CAVUTO: Were you aware of the controversies over the Vietnam War and Americans getting jaded during your imprisonment?

MCCAIN: Yes, because we would have newer pilots shot down, and they would -- we would communicate with them, and we would keep up.

And, of course, we had this wonderful radio program. Much like FOX, it was totally unbiased and fair and balanced.

(LAUGHTER)

CAVUTO: So...

MCCAIN: We called it Hanoi...

(CROSSTALK)

MCCAIN: They would play this propaganda to us. And if you listened, you could read through the...

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: But you were aware of what was going on?

MCCAIN: For a long time, no.

Anything bad that happened, we were aware of.

CAVUTO: Yes.

MCCAIN: Anything good that happened -- for -- best example is, two years after the landing on the moon, I happened to have been listening to -- in every cell, they had a loudspeaker, and I was listening to it two years later. And one of the anti-war speeches was being played. They played a lot of those.

And the speaker said, "And we can put a man on the moon, but we can't bring a -- the Vietnam War to the close."

I said, whoa.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN: That was the first -- you know, but Martin Luther King's assassination, any bad thing that happened, they would tell us about that.

CAVUTO: But most news was delayed coming to you, if you got it at all?

MCCAIN: Yes. Yes. Yes, it was delayed.

But, you know, we communicated with each other. It's a very difficult situation.

CAVUTO: Understood.

MCCAIN: Much more difficult situation, I think, that he was in, in many respects, although, sometimes, the treatment, in order to extract confessions and other things out of us, could be very, very brutal and very cruel.

CAVUTO: All right.

Let's talk about that, because the solitary confinement, two years of solitary confinement, you have been through that...

MCCAIN: Yes, but you can...

CAVUTO: ... and were beaten throughout it.

But I -- just steer, take me through that and how it could have affected him.

MCCAIN: Yes, I don't know why Sergeant Bergdahl was beaten. I don't know what their rationale was, except maybe they were just cruel.

In our case, they wanted to use prisoners of war as instruments to win the war, in other words, get a war crimes confession, denounce your country.

The military information we had had a very short shelf life. So they would put us through very difficult physical experiences in order to get us to sign confessions, or make a tape, or -- because they used us. They wanted to use us as the instruments of propaganda to affect opinion about the war.

CAVUTO: Now you, of course, were shot down, a pilot shot down.

MCCAIN: Yes.

CAVUTO: We get different stories about the sergeant, and whether he left his base voluntarily, wandered off.

MCCAIN: Yes.

CAVUTO: Do you think, whatever the case, that you welcome a comrade home, but that the means by which we got him home, you're not a fan of that?

MCCAIN: I believe that, when we join the military, we agree to certain things that no -- no one else in our society does.

And that is, you take a risk of capture, death, wounding. That's what makes the military profession so unique. And, in my view, although I was certainly for a prisoner exchange, I thought that this exchange, in exchange for five hard-core, worst of the worst, going to rejoin the fight, mass murderers, the top five people in Guantanamo, which the Taliban...

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: There's some dispute on that, Senator, that they were the top five. But you -- you're sure that they were the worst of the worst?

MCCAIN: Well, I know that every one of them was judged too great a risk to be released. I know that two of them were mass murderers.

I know they were in the Taliban government, the one that used to take women to the soccer stadium in Kabul and hang them from the goalposts.

CAVUTO: Would there have been any other ones at Gitmo that you would have entertained a switch, a switch, for...

MCCAIN: Well, I think that there's one of -- there's one of these guys that it's -- that it's questionable about.

But these five...

CAVUTO: These five were not the guys.

MCCAIN: ... selected by the Taliban, I think, will return to the fight. They have committed to doing so.

And I certainly didn't like the terms of their release, a year in Qatar. There will still be Americans in Afghanistan when they -- when all when America -- when America -- when they are released from Qatar, and, believe me, Qatar won't keep them.

CAVUTO: Real quickly, switching gears, if you don't mind.

MCCAIN: Yes.

CAVUTO: You had said that, given these developments, and given now what's going on in Iraq, that the president should just fire his entire foreign policy team. Did you mean that?

MCCAIN: Well, absolutely. They have failed. They have failed.

CAVUTO: Does that include the secretary of state?

MCCAIN: Yes. Well, I hadn't thought much about John Kerry, because he...

CAVUTO: He's part of that team.

MCCAIN: Yes, I think that -- I think that John should consider, not only because of that, but the failure of Geneva, the failure of the Israeli/Palestinian issue, the probable failure of the negotiations with Iran on nuclear weapons.

But the reason why I'm saying that is because this strategy has failed. It's been a total failure. And now they're really doing nothing more.

We need to understand that, if we don't help -- and, right now, not waiting for -- although Maliki should step down in -- and be replaced by a coalition government, because he's lost credibility with the Sunni...

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: But is it too late for that?

MCCAIN: But -- well, I don't know.

But I do know this, that it will -- they will pose an existential threat to the United States of America, these people. And we need to do -- do airstrikes, and we need to get in there quickly, because the...

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: How about ground troops? The president...

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: ... no to ground troops.

MCCAIN: No. No, I don't think ground troops.

CAVUTO: But airstrikes?

MCCAIN: Airstrikes, maybe some special forces in certain situations.

The Iranians are about to fill the vacuum. We do not want Maliki to have to turn to the Iranians, and the Iranians will then be running at least that part of Iraq. That is the worst...

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: But whose side should we be on, because there's so many forces here, Senator?

MCCAIN: We should be on the -- we should be on side of a coalition government of moderate Iraqis and people who -- Iraqis do not want either these ISIS -- ISIS -- and they don't want Iran. They want a free and independent country.

CAVUTO: But even Al Qaeda has questions about this group.

MCCAIN: Well, it's -- it's the worst of the worst. They're already executing people in Mosul.

CAVUTO: So, who do we trust? We don't know who is zooming who, right?

MCCAIN: We can trust a coalition government. We know who they are.

I would get David Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker on a plane over there to Baghdad and they tell Maliki, you have to step -- step down. You -- we need a coalition government.

But, right now, we need to be doing things militarily to stop this incredible spread of ISIS throughout...

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: Hillary Clinton says, if she had her druthers, she might keep troops longer in Afghanistan than 2016, and that she would entertain revisiting a lot of the things that we did in Iraq.

MCCAIN: Yes.

CAVUTO: Is she divorcing herself from this administration?

MCCAIN: Of course, and she should.

But I said in 2011 that we would fail in Iraq because of the total withdrawal. And we could have kept troops there, no matter what they tell you.

We're going to see that same movie in Afghanistan if we have a total withdrawal. And the president can declare the end of war. He can declare the end of conflict, but the people we're fighting aren't doing that. So what he's got is an exit without a strategy.

CAVUTO: Senator John McCain, thank you very much.

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