'We'll keep an eye on them,' White House's Podesta says of freed Taliban

Obama counselor John Podesta said Friday the US has ways to monitor the five former Taliban officials released in the swap for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. He also offered a succinct assessment of what a Hillary Clinton presidency would look like.

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor
Counselor to the President John Podesta speaks at the St. Regis Hotel on June 6, 2014 in Washington, DC.

The US will be able to keep a close eye on five Taliban prisoners transferred to Qatar to win the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, said John Podesta, a top adviser to President Obama, on Friday.

He is the latest administration official to offer public assurances, in the face of withering criticism, that the swap made Saturday was in the best interests of the US. Specifically, Mr. Podesta sought to play down concerns that the former Taliban officials, whose government in Afghanistan gave harbor to Al Qaeda, would be in a position to strike at the United States.

"The secretary of Defense made the determination that the transfer was in the national security interest of the United States and that the threat posed to the United States by the detainees to the United States or US persons would be substantially mitigated,” Podesta told reporters at a Monitor Breakfast meeting with reporters. Sergeant Bergdahl had been in the custody of Taliban fighters since 2009.

The five Taliban figures, whom the US had held for a decade at its Guantánamo Bay terrorism detention camp, will be under tight US surveillance while they remain in Qatar, he said. Qatar has agreed to monitor the transferees for a year.

“There are also ways that we have to monitor them beyond what Qatar is doing,” Podesta said. “We have a lot of ways of knowing what people are doing around the country and around the world. I think it's fair to say we'll keep an eye on them.” 

Podesta also defended proposed EPA regulations, released Monday, to cut carbon emissions from existing power plants. Energy and climate issues have been a key part of his portfolio as counselor to the president since he joined the Obama White House in January.

And he ventured a description of the kind of president Hillary Rodham Clinton would be, if she were elected in 2016. (He served as chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, and worked at that time with her.) Asked for three adjectives to describe a Hillary Clinton presidency, he offered “disciplined, tough, and determined.”

“If she does decide to run and she is elected president," Podesta said, "she will get up every day as President Obama gets up every day, as President Clinton got up every day, and go into the Oval Office and think, ‘What can I do to help the middle class and working people?’ ”

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