Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday called the United States’ “tradition” of not leaving soldiers in captivity a “noble” one in what amounted to a measured defense of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s controversial release.
Clinton was headlining an event in suburban Denver when she was asked whether she would have traded five terrorists for Bergdahl, the American soldier whose release in Afghanistan after five years of captivity has sparked controversy.
She downplayed the criticism surrounding his release and noted some of the benefits his expected return brings the United States.
“We do have a tradition and I ascribe to it,” Clinton said. “We try not to leave any of our soldiers on the field. We try to make sure, insofar as possible, you know, we bring them home.”
She continued: “This young man, whatever the circumstances, is an American citizens and was serving in our military.”
The reason Bergdahl’s release has become contentious is two-fold.
Some eyewitnesses say Bergdahl deserted his platoon on the day he went missing in 2009, leaving the safety of his base without a weapon. His friends, however, describe him as a trustworthy and outgoing world traveler who joined the Army in 2008 and U.S. officials aren’t directly calling Bergdahl a deserter.
The terms of his release have also drawn criticism, largely because Bergdahl was traded for five terrorists who were imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay. Some fear that the deal will encourage hostage-taking and open a new era in which the United States has to negotiate with terrorists. Others say the administration may have broken the law by failing to notify Congress that it was letting terror detainees free from the military prison.
Although Clinton did not state outright that she would have conducted the prisoner swap, saying she doesn’t believe in “second guessing people who have to make these hard choices,” the former secretary of state did put the controversy around the trade in context by noting some previous exchanges.
“A lot of our closest allies do prisoner exchanges to get our POWs back all the time,” Clinton said, highlighting the 2011 trade between Israel and Palestine that saw Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit swapped for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.
Clinton went on to say that “the important issue now” is to get Bergdahl healthy and “get as much information out of him as possible.”
“That, I think, is valuable in and of itself,” Clinton said of the information Bergdahl might have. “As we are drawing down our troops and ending the longest military engagement in combat in American history … we need as much intelligence as we can get about what is happening inside the Taliban.”
Much of Clinton’s appearance, which lasted more than an hour, did not focus on current events, however.
The former first lady who is widely considered the Democratic Party’s frontrunner for the presidential nomination in 2016 spoke at length about women’s issues, her time as secretary of state and her upcoming memoir, “Hard Choices,” to the audience in Broomfield, Colorado.
While Clinton avoided a coy question from the event’s moderator about whether she was entering the presidential race, the former senator did talk about what it takes to run for the White House.
“I think the most important questions are not will you run or can you win, I think the important questions are what is your vision for America and can you lead us there,” Clinton said to a sustained applause. She later added that being president is “as much a job as it is a mission.”
And Clinton also seemed to take on some recent Republican critiques of her health when she told the audience that while running for president is exhausting, she “luckily” has “a lot of resilience and a lot of stamina.”
Clinton also closed her speech with an impassioned pitch that she has not used at many of her other events over the past four months.
“Please join me in making some hard choices for America,” Clinton said as the supportive crowd roared.
This was not the first event in Denver that felt like a campaign stop, either. Earlier on Monday, Clinton appeared at a local plastics factory, where she toured the facility, held a roundtable on youth employment and gave brief remarks.
“Everything that would solve the problems is being done somewhere,” Clinton said of the United States. “This internship program that I learned about here, it’s a great program. Just think if it were multiple times over.”
After her remarks, Clinton stepped off the stage and said, “Let me shake a few more hands.”