Gen. Jack Keane says Bowe Bergdahl swap was a 'huge mistake'

This is a rush transcript from "The Kelly File," March 27, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

MEGYN KELLY, HOST: Well, as the controversy grows over the desertion charges for Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, there is a growing debate over reports that three of the five Taliban leaders we swapped in exchange for his release may already be trying to return to the battlefield with a deadline for their possible release just two months away.

Chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge reports from Washington.

CATHERINE HERRIDGE, CHIEF INTELLIGENCE CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON: Megyn, a government official says three of the five Taliban commanders have tried to plug back into their terror networks, describing it as reengagement with the enemy. A defense official is not disputing fox's reporting but emphasizing that one of the men has come very close to providing advice, council or inspiration to militants while two other commanders have not crossed that line. Before the transfer a Gitmo review found all of the men to be high risk.

A State Department official insists the men's phone calls and online messages did not meet the strict criteria for reengagement laid out by the U.S. Intelligence community which takes into account the motivation and intention of each communication. Last year the men got a hero's welcome in Qatar where they've been under house arrest. That one-year deal cut with the U.S. expires at the end of May, and the State Department couldn't say what happens on day 366.


JEFF RATHKE, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: By working closely with our Qatari partners, we are in a strong position to mitigate substantially any potential threat or risk those individuals might pose.


HERRIDGE: Fox News is also told that other options were under discussion to get Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl back beyond the controversial swap for the Taliban five including a so-called snatch and grab rescue mission, paying a contractor to locate and recover Bergdahl, as well as working through the Pakistani Intelligence Service. After his release Bergdahl was debriefed and the military intelligence source says he provided information about his route out of Afghanistan to Pakistan and his captors, but the intelligence was deemed dated and worthless. Megyn?

KELLY: Joining us now with more, General Jack Keane, a retired four- star general and the chairman of the Institute of the Study of War. He's also a Fox News military analyst. General good to see you.


KELLY: So, I mean, what's going to happen? Because Jen Psaki wouldn't get specific about what's going to happen to these guys in two months when they're now apparently no longer going to be monitored?

KEANE: Well, certainly. I mean the reason why the Taliban asks them to come back is not just some token show. They want them back. These are valuable effective leaders who have served well for them in the past. So, clearly I think they -- they have two motivations, one, they want to go back to their families. And, two, they want to get back in the fight helping the Taliban cause and I would be stunned if anything less than five eventually found their way back into some leadership role again conducting operations in support of the Taliban. That's what this is all about. That's why they wanted them back.

KELLY: Jen Psaki told me not in this interview that we just aired but in a prior one we did a couple months ago with a wink and a nod; she didn't say it explicitly but she implied that we may continue to monitor them and try -- sort of said, "I'm not going to reveal exactly what the plans are." But, you know, not to worry. Do you buy that?

KEANE: Well, I don't -- I buy the fact that we're going to try to continue to monitor them. But we can't control them and that -- we've given up control because of the terms of this agreement. I think the terms should have been house arrest for the next three to five years unless termination of hostilities in Afghanistan took place and we actually have a peace accord but that at the term so say now that we're going to provide some kind of oversight, some kind of mechanism to know where they are and what they're doing, even if let's say we did that, still we're going to have no control. They're going to be able to do what they want to do.

KELLY: You know, the question is as we discus discussed in the last panel, OK, so no soldiers left behind, and I know you believe that. However, the price, that's what this is about. Because not only are -- did we exchange these five guys for a man accused of desertion, but the propaganda value. I mean, the hero's welcome they got. That tape of, you know, the cheering when they returned, and you know, it's hard to put a price on that. But the question is whether we could have gotten Bowe Bergdahl back at a -- at a cheaper price for somebody who wasn't quite so valued.

KEANE: Oh, yeah. This -- this is absolutely the case. We made a lousy deal. You can't blame the Taliban for asking for their top five guys that we have in Gitmo to try to get them back. But you have to blame the administration for acceding to that desire. Listen, Sergeant Bergdahl and his teammates, and I respect and admire those you've had on the show.


KEANE: They -- they are a small unit of tactical leaders. They do the fighting and -- and the dying. We have hundreds of them in our detention centers in Afghanistan who are Taliban, equivalent of our guys who fight at that level.


KEANE: That is who we should have made the exchange with. Not the equivalent of their general officers even if.


KELLY: What would you say to, you know, if President Obama said, "I couldn't get him for them," but that they wouldn't make that deal.

KEANE: You don't make the deal. I mean, first of all, I think when they know when they're dealing with us we're susceptible to make a lousy deal, you know, in terms of ourselves and something that's favorable to the enemy.


KEANE: I mean, it's taking place right now with the Iranians, don't want to change the subject. But it is -- is this the truth? The fact -- that's one thing. I think there was another option in -- in exchange for money through a third party. Taliban wants money, need money all the time, put some real money in front of them, use a third party to do it. I think they were clearly alternative options that would have to be negotiated. That's to be sure. The Taliban will balk initially. But to give them what they wanted right out of the box like this, huge mistake. We'll pay for that mistake.

KELLY: You know, some including the "New York Times" and we're going to get into this in our next segment with Howie but are suggesting now that this trial is pointless, that this man has been through enough, and some even suggesting an honorable discharge is really the way forward for him so he can have a life after being tortured in the hands of the enemy. What say you?

KEANE: Well, I just totally disagree with that. One, I applaud General Milley, United States Army leadership standing up and doing a thorough investigation. He wanted the time to do it. We criticized him for the length of it, but the facts are I think he made the right decision. The initial investigation that was done by the commanding officer who Bergdahl reports to when he left his post, that determination has never changed and that was he deserted his post. That was done by his commanding officer.

Now, we've had a four-star general view all the facts of the case and he has charged him with the same conclusion that the initial commanding officer came to, to include misbehavior. This is unequivocal evidence that we have had a soldier who's done something wrong here. He will probably evolve in some kind of plea arrangement with the government I would suspect. But nonetheless there's no denying actually what took place here.

KELLY: But what about those who say he deserves mercy given what he went through in the hands of the enemy?

KEANE: He has to get a dishonorable discharge in my judgment. The -- I think the mitigation of captivity and his behavior in that captivity and what the enemy did to him, I think we have very specific knowledge of that. Our -- our interrogators are experts at getting information out. And I think we know clearly what his behavior was and what the enemy did to him. If that should be a mitigation, then that will take place. And that -- that will impact on time served in jail.

KELLY: Uh-huh.

KEANE: That will be where the negotiation will take place based on his captivity. But believe me, there is not a soldier, a sailor or airmen or marine out there who's listening to me that would want anything less than dishonorable discharge for this kind of behavior on the battlefield. That is bona fide desertion in the face of the enemy. And then joining -- walking toward that enemy knowing what the results of that would be. That he is being held accountable for that as he should be.

KELLY: General Jack Keane, thank you, sir.

KEANE: OK. Good talking to you, Megyn.

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