OTR Interviews

McCain: 'Damned foolishness' not to expect Gitmo detainees to return to battlefield after release

Veteran senator not surprised that released 'Taliban 5' member allegedly tried to return to battlefield


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," January 30, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Uh, oh. Republicans furious at President Obama. They are calling the Obama administration swap of the Taliban 5 for Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl a bad deal. The Republicans' anger fueled by news that one member of the Taliban 5 has been intercepted making phone calls to the Taliban.

But today, Pentagon press secretary, Rear Admiral John Kirby, again defending a potentially dangerous trade and insisting the Taliban 5 under control.


ADM. JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: We had reason to believe that there was some activities by at least one that centered around potential reengagement. And we communicated with the government of Qatar over that activity and again proper steps are being put in place to further limit it.

And I would haven hasten to remind that is because of the process we have in place and the strong relationship that we have with the government of Qatar that we were able to identify this particular activity.


VAN SUSTEREN: Senator John McCain joins us.

Nice to see you, sir. What about what the admiral has to say?


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: He is really quick, isn't he?


Look --


VAN SUSTEREN: Stunning how he kept hemming and hawing.

MCCAIN: 30 percent of those who have been released have returned to the fight. And we see it's about one out of five that he's trying to return to the fight. By the way, these people are going to free to go anywhere --

VAN SUSTEREN: In three months.

MCCAIN: -- in three months.

Let me just mention this to you about this aspect. When I was in Hanoi with my fellow POWs, our slogan was "Home with honor." We didn't want anything our country might do which would impair our ability to succeed and defeat the enemy on our behalf. That's why we called it "Home with Honor." This business of saying, well, it was a great idea to swap. We didn't want to be swapped when I was there in Hanoi. We wanted the United States to win. This whole swap idea puts the lives of American men and women serving in the military in greater danger. 30 percent of those released from Guantanamo already have reentered the fight. They have reentered the fight at high levels because it's a badge of honor, and this is further proof that it was a bad, bad idea.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, if you sort of read between the lines of what is being said, it sounds like we found out that he was -- had some sort of conversation with the Taliban. And then we notified Qatar, but they're the ones supposed to be watching them. Of course, they will stop watching them at the end of May. What in the world is Qatar doing?

MCCAIN: Doesn't it raise the question, what is it that we don't know what they have been doing?

VAN SUSTEREN: How many times have they made calls that we didn't catch?

MCCAIN: Sure. It's obvious that these people are the hardest of the hard core. They are the worst of the worst. To expect them not to go back in the fight, to somehow undergo some conversion, is just damned foolishness. And so again I repeat, additional American lives will be threatened because these people, which they most likely will, as 30 percent of the others have been released, will pose a direct danger to American men and women who are serving. That is not acceptable.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Where is this Bergdahl decision? This is the slowest -- makes the court system look fast. What's with the military not telling us what they've decided with Bergdahl?

MCCAIN: We are asking questions about that now. The White House is saying, no, there is no pressure, et cetera. Why in the world is this taking so long. The Armed Services Committee is going to ask questions. Why did it take so long? What are the conclusions? And what will be the judicial proceedings?

VAN SUSTEREN: What could possibly -- it's been investigated and it's now sitting with one general to make a decision?


VAN SUSTEREN: So what's the problem? Either he deserted or he didn't dessert.

MCCAIN: Something is wrong, Greta. Something is wrong. The system should not have taken that long. The investigation was too long. And obviously, it -- we are going to be demanding answers. Ash Carter is going to be up before the Armed Services Committee in a week for his confirmation. That's one of the questions that is going to be asked of him.

VAN SUSTEREN: What do you make that the White House doesn't want to call the Taliban terrorists?


MCCAIN: The Authorization for the Use of Military Force that we passed after 9/11 directly refers to the Taliban as committing acts of terror.


VAN SUSTEREN: Why won't the White House doing it?


MCCAIN: I do not understand. It's part of this whole idea they have of not calling things what they are and withdrawing and everything is going to be OK. And the president's obliviousness to the things that are happening in the world is really writing a shameful chapter in American history. By the way, we had hearings before the Armed Services Committee. Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, Madeleine Albright, all of them said the world is in more turmoil that it has been at any time in their lifetime. And they have served long and honorably.

VAN SUSTEREN: Of course, you said something when Henry Kissinger, Dr. Kissinger got protested?

MCCAIN: It wasn't protesters it. It was people who were physically threatening a 91-year-old man with a broken shoulder. That's what that was about. Disgraceful.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, nice to see you as always.

MCCAIN: Thank you, Greta.