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June 5th, 2014
04:31 PM ET

McCain: I would have rejected Bergdahl deal

(CNN) – Republican Sen. John McCain, himself a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, says his "heart goes out" to Bowe Bergdahl, but slammed the deal that swapped five Guantanamo Bay detainees for the captured Army sergeant.

"I wanted him home. I didn't want to risk the lives, and don't want to risk the lives of Americans," said McCain. "I would never agree with that."

Asked if he would have rejected the deal, even if that meant Bergdahl would still be held prisoner in Afghanistan or Pakistan, McCain says he would have.

"I’m afraid that that’s the case, because our first obligation is not to put the lives of American fighting men and women at risk by having these (five detainees) return to the fight," said McCain.

The Arizona senator has come under fire this week for seemingly flip flopping on his support of securing Bergdahl's release. CNN's Anderson Cooper asked McCain whether he would support a prisoner exchange back in February.

"Would you oppose the idea of some form of negotiations or prisoner exchange? I know back in 2012 you called the idea of even negotiating with the Taliban bizarre, highly questionable," Cooper said.

"Well, at that time the proposal was that they would release Taliban, some of them really hard-core, particularly five really hard-core Taliban leaders, as a confidence- building measure. Now this idea is for an exchange of prisoners for our American fighting man," McCain replied. "I would be inclined to support such a thing depending on a lot of the details."

"And the details are outrageous," McCain said today.

"The details are unacceptable. And for anyone to accuse me, therefore, of saying I’d support any prisoner swap under any circumstances is lying," he added.

Under terms of the swap, the five prisoners were taken to Qatar, and are supposed to remain there under watch by the government for at least one year.

The five men, while seen as senior officials in the Taliban, have not been in touch with their colleagues for a decade, and their ability to be operational and hurt U.S. troops if they go back to Afghanistan is believed to be minimal, a knowledgeable source told CNN.

McCain disagrees.

"It's just totally unacceptable, these people will be back in the fight, (and) our troops will still be there," said McCain.

Presumably this was the best deal the White House could get, but McCain dismissed that defense.

"That's like saying a nuclear deal with Iran is the best deal they can get," said McCain. "It has to be a deal that preserves American security. This does not," said McCain.

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