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Bergdahl -- Hero or Deserter?; Landfill Search in Madeleine McCann Case; CNN Reporter Accosted in Turkey; Republican Rebuttal to Hillary Clinton's New E-Book; Airline Group to Put Out List of Recommendations to Prevent Another Flight 370

Aired June 2, 2014 - 11:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hero or deserter? That is the question some are asking at this hour as we learn more details about the release of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.

Some of his fellow soldiers, they are furious. One even says he committed treason.

Hillary Clinton's "Hard Choices" meets failed choices. A Republican group is out with an anti-Clinton e-book already.

And almost three months after it left the radar screen and entered the history books, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 might be inspiring big changes in the airline industry.

Hello, everyone. I'm John Berman. Michaela Pereira is off today.

Those stories and more, right now, @ THIS HOUR.

And @ THIS HOUR, an American is free for the first time in five years. That in and of itself is good, but there are serious questions about the cost to free Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl and concern bordering on anger about how he ended up in Taliban hands to begin with. Was he a deserter?

Bergdahl is being treated right now at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. Special Operations forces picked him up from the Taliban on Saturday after almost five years of captivity in Afghanistan. Actually, he was in Pakistan for a big chunk of that.

In exchange, five Taliban prisoners were released from Guantanamo. Some suggest that is a price too high to pay, especially given that some of his fellow troops say he deserted his post and that at least six soldiers were killed in searches for him. Some of those troops say he should be court-martialed.

So let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Joe Johns. First of all, we should say there's no publicly verified account of exactly how Sergeant Bergdahl left his post, but there are some suggestions he simply walked off.

There's another report that he was picked up while he was in the latrine. Officials are telling CNN that they need to talk to him personally to get the stories, but tell us about the backlash this morning.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: This has been out there for a long time, for years and years, a question of whether Bowe Bergdahl actually deserted his post or whether he was kidnapped.

There's no conclusive evidence, because at the end of the day, he's going to be the arbiter of that when he sits down with Pentagon officials and actually explains to them in his own words what happened.

Nonetheless, there are colleagues of his who have said they believe he deserted. There are e-mail trails. There are a lot of different pieces of information that suggest Bowe Bergdahl is no hero. In fact, it's talked about quite a bit on social media.

Again, though, the question is whether Bowe Bergdahl himself can confirm or deny some of these stories.

At this stage, Pentagon officials are sort of keeping their powder dry on this. They say they want to talk to him.

BERMAN: Their powder dry, Joe. Nevertheless, he's been promoted twice while he was in captivity. He's about to be promoted again to staff sergeant.

Does that indicate that this isn't a concern to the U.S. military?

JOHNS: What it indicates is that they don't have any conclusive evidence that he deserted his post and is in fact a traitor.

This will all come down the road at some point, and it's anybody's guess how it will turn out, quite frankly.

BERMAN: And it's one of the things we'll talk to him about. They also want to learn a lot from him while they have him and they are treating him to figure out if U.S. military can pick up any secrets about how Americans are held in captivity in Pakistan and Afghanistan, also any intelligence he might be able to give them about his captors.

All right, Joe Johns in Washington, thanks so much.

There are so many questions surrounding this case, and one of the big ones is did the White House break the law, brokering this swap of Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban prisoners.

The president's national security adviser predictably says no. Listen to what Susan Rice told our Candy Crowley on "State of the Union."


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR, "STATE OF THE UNION": So there was a conscious decision to break the law as you know it dealing with the detainees and release of them?

SUSAN RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Candy, no. As I said earlier, the Department of Defense consulted with the Department of Justice and it is our view that it was appropriate and necessary to do this in order to bring Sergeant Bergdahl back safely.


BERMAN: Let's bring in our political commentator, Margaret Hoover, and "Newsday" columnist Ellis Henican.

Margaret, let me start with you, here. You heard Susan Rice say the Defense Department consulted with the Justice Department, albeit the Obama Justice Department, and it was their sense that they could do this.

They could broker this deal because they felt Sergeant Bergdahl was suffering from a serious enough medical problem that it had to be done immediately.

Are you convinced?

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The law is that you have to inform Congress within 30 days. They didn't do that. You can also understand why they didn't do that. Congress would have said no.

So they clearly went ahead and did it. They thought they had the authority to do it.

The problem, I think, that's larger than this issue of legality, which is an important one, is the message it sends about American strength abroad. We have long, for many, many years, had the precedent that we don't negotiate with terrorists.

We do not negotiate for enemy non-combatants -- for combatants that are illegal, and by doing that, it demonstrates and continues to reiterate a narrative out there that America is not on the rise but on the decline, that this is a message of lack of American strength abroad.

BERMAN: Let me just follow on this point, because we're going to talk to General "Spider" Marks in a little bit, who is adamant on the subject of negotiating with terrorists, and he says frankly, we do.

Iran contra, if it wasn't negotiating with terrorists, what was it?

HOOVER: It was actually negotiating for terrorists and there are many on the right say it was wrong, including the former U.N. ambassador John Bolton, says Reagan was wrong to negotiate for those hostages.

We shouldn't do that. We don't do that. And it does suggest a lack of American strength.

BERMAN: Shouldn't negotiate with terrorists is different than we don't with terrorists, but I understand your point there, to be sure.

Ellis, let's cover both points here. First of all, Margaret was talking about the fact that the Obama administration went around Congress because they knew Congress would get in the way if they went through Congress.

I don't think the Constitution has a stipulation that if Congress is a pain in the neck, the president can go around them.

ELLIS HENICAN, "NEWSDAY" COLUMNIST: No, there's not much of an enforcement mechanism, is there?

They've done it. You can complain about it. Maybe the legal scholars can debate exactly where those lines are.

But, listen, it was a highly sensitive thing. There was genuine life at risk. And I think most Americans would say, you know what? Under these circumstances do what you have to do.

HOOVER: There's always a life at risk when you have a prisoner of war. That is a life at risk.

BERMAN: What about the future lives at risk?

HENICAN: You're right. And I think Margaret does a terrific job presenting the argument and the rhetoric around the idea of not dealing with terrorists or hostage-takers in this way.

However, the reality is that of course we do. We must. It would be irresponsible to have an absolute, black-and-white policy in a case like this.

You have to make judgments. All governments do it. The Israelis, not long ago, traded a thousand prisoners for one sergeant. You make these judgments based on the reality of the situation.

HENICAN: And the reality of the situation, we also know, is that we took five of the worst guys we have in Guantanamo and five of the worst Taliban prisoners that we have, and we sent them back to Afghanistan.

These people had all been working with al Qaeda before 9/11.

HENICAN: Maybe -- maybe ...

BERMAN: First of all, they're not back in Afghanistan.

HOOVER: They're going to Qatar for a year.

BERMAN: You say five. So then, not to be crass here, is this an exchange rate problem? Are you saying the U.S. should have gotten a better deal?

HENICAN: Two would have been OK?

HOOVER: No, I'm saying these were worst of worst. I'm saying of all the guys in Guantanamo Bay, there's a sliding scale of really bad guys and guys that we can afford to like hopefully be rehabilitated, depending on where you send them back.

These guys were ranked as "do not release ever because these guys are going to go back to the fight and try to take out more American lives." BERMAN: Ellis, I do have to ask, because if you are a bad operator in northern Africa right now, if you're a bad operator in any part of the world right now, wouldn't you look at this and say, hey, this is a good deal?

HENICAN: That's one of the arguments against doing it, but there's another principle that we can't forget, right? I mean, we're America. We do not leave our wounded in the battle zone.

Whether they're physically wounded, whether they're psychologically wounded, whether they made a bad judgment or a crazy move across a line, this is the responsibility of sending these people to war, is that we do everything -- and I mean just about everything we can -- to get them home. That's the right thing to do.

HOOVER: Without endangering future soldiers and future diplomacy.

HENICAN: Well, it's all dangerous.

HOOVER: But what have we said now? We've said that we have put a higher price on American lives because there's this precedent now of getting Americans back -- getting enemy combatants back by trading for Americans.

BERMAN: I've got to tell you, it's an important discussion to have. It's a very important discussion to have. I'm glad we're having it.

I think we can all be glad that this sergeant is coming home while we have this discussion, and there may be disagreement about how it was done and why it was done.

Stick around, guys, because we have a lot more to talk about over the course of this show.

Meanwhile, we have some other headlines we're following @ THIS HOUR.

Police in Portugal will soon begin digging in an area of wasteland, searching for Madeleine McCann. They've cordoned off an area outside of a beach resort.

The British girl disappeared seven years ago from her family's holiday apartment. She was just a few weeks shy of her fourth birthday. Portuguese police reopened their investigation last October.

Now to Turkey where one of our colleagues was roughed up and taken into custody, this happened live on camera. Ivan Watson was doing his job. He was doing a live report on the anniversary of protests in Istanbul when he was approached by officials asking for his credentials.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Excuse me. I think I'm getting -- I think we're -- I'm being --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: May I say your passport? (END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Ivan says Turkish police detained him and his crew for about half an hour. They're all right now, and you can bet this will not stop them for a second from doing their jobs in Turkey and elsewhere around the world.

There's another case of a bouncy house flying away to report. This time it happened in Jefferson County, Colorado. A young girl was thrown about eight feet into the air. She's OK. A boy was injured when the inflatable house was carried away by strong winds.

This comes just a few weeks after a similar mishap in upstate New York where two boys were injured.

All right, coming up for us, "Hard Choices" meets failed choices, a Republican group is out with an anti-Clinton e-book. That's just ahead, @ THIS HOUR.


BERMAN: Before we move on here, we've been talking about the release, the trade for Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.

I'm here with Margaret Hoover and Ellis Henican right now. I want to stay on this subject because I think there's a lot more to talk about.

Margaret, during the break here, this discussion -- I'll call it an argument -- continued. And you guys were pretty vehement on this. Margaret, you simply think this was a bad deal.

HOOVER: I think this is a bad deal because -- partly because of who these five guys are. These are -- when I said five worst of the worst, Ellis is like, I'm not so sure if they're worst of the worst.

We know exactly who these five guys are, and in the -- when you have the roster, lineup of who is at Guantanamo Bay, you've got guys you can send back, you've got guys that you think you can maybe reform, and then you've got guys who we say never release because these guys are very, very likely -- they're already respected in the hierarchy of Taliban structure, they've already connected with al Qaeda.

They have a very high chance, if they have the opportunity, of going straight back into the leadership of al Qaeda.

Two of them are wanted for war crimes at the U.N. One of them studied under somebody who is responsible for killing 12 U.S. Marines. I mean, these aren't pansies, these are real fighters who want to do harm to the United States and the free world.

BERMAN: Ellis, I'll give you last word on this. Can you look us in the face and tell us there's zero threat these guys will cause harm to America?

HENICAN: Of course not. There's all kinds of threats. They and thousands of others. But let's remember who they are. I mean again we don't have to make them man of the year, they're not boy scout leaders. They are people who, we used to call them freedom fighters when they fought the Russians. When we went to their country, our government certainly did, when we went to their country, they fought us in horrible and fierce ways. There is no doubt about it. Prisoners of war, eventually wars end, wars end and prisoners of war go back home. It has ever been thus and this shall continue to be so. We don't have to like them, but let's not go overboard and say we can't do anything to serve our own interests.

HOOVER: You are right, wars do end. And we are winding down this war in Afghanistan. But they are not ending their side of the fight. There is nothing to suggest that they are going to stop hating on America, they are not going to go back to al Qaeda and that Afghanistan won't once again fall into the hands of people who want to attack the United States and its allies and plan and execute that.

HENICAN: They and many, many others out there who hate us. We need to protect ourselves from, but don't do things that harm us and our people and abandon our soldiers in our sense that everybody is horrible and we can't do anything ever.

BERMAN: If they cause trouble in Afghanistan, should that be a concern Ellis?

HENICAN: I don't think we want to go back to war in Afghanistan. Of course it should be a concern.

HOOVER: Nobody wanted to go to war in Afghanistan in the first place. That was the good war. Not the bad war. This was not the war of choice. This is the war of necessity.

HENICAN: Margaret is right . There is no doubt that these and others are bad people and bad stuff may happen. But you know what? We have to move forward. We can't have this war go on forever.

HOOVER: We have to prevent bad stuff from happening, Ellis.

BERMAN: I am going to put a button on this and we can argue about it again during the break.

I want to ask one question about another story in the news. A new e- book about Hillary Clinton. She's coming out with her book, "Hard Choices", already sold 1 million copies even though it is not released yet. But even before it is release a Republican group, American Rising, is coming out with an e-book. A rebuttal. A response to it.

So I'm not surprised by this. I brought some visual aids here. This is my collection of hit job books I keep in my office. I have a much bigger collection at home. This is "The Case Against Barack Obama" this is the "Fall of the House of Bush". I've got some anti-McCain books at home that are some personal favorites. Both parties do this. But Margaret, the issue is, she's not officially running yet. These are usually campaign books. Is this certain Republicans saying, you know what, we're just going to ignore that factor and we're going to presume she's running and get out now. HOOVER: She's reserved the right to run. We all know that this book tour -- we'll see where she goes on her book tour. But John, if you and I were to guess, I imagine she will have great Barnes and Noble events in west Des Moines, Iowa, and in Concord, New Hampshire, and in all of the relevant places were you go in early primary states. Hillary Clinton may very well be running, a huge number of supporters want her to run. And this is, very clearly, a way to really seed the ground on some of these controversial issues if she does choose to run. You can't blame the attack people who don't want her to run, or to want to put holes in her story for trying to buttress that story ahead of time. This is politics.

BERMAN: Margaret kind of has a point given that the Clinton team -- and I will call them a team because they are putting out this book as a team -- has brought on Tommy Vietor, who is a former Obama aide, to help respond. They've got a whole war room to deal with the book now.

HENICAN: Hillary bashing never takes a holiday. We all understand that. There's no downtime for the people who are obsessed with Hillary Clinton. I'm not too worried about this one. If it had been a real book, if they really thought it was any good, coming out with an e-book against a book that will sell 1 million hard cover copies on day one, I think Hillary is coming out on this one OK.

HOOVER: You're missing the thought. The problem is we're talking about an e-book. It's not that it is irrelevant. It was published much quicker, faster and cheaper.

BERMAN: More about publishing in the break along with the Bowe Bergdahl story. Margaret Hoover, Ellis Henican, great to have you here, great discussion. I really do appreciate it.

Coming up for us, it vanished and it's still nowhere to be seen. But now an airline group is hoping to stop this from happening again. How it plans to keep eyes on all planes at all times. Of course our question, is that even possible?


BERMAN: At this point, Malaysia Flight 370 is really the biggest mystery in the history of aviation. Eighty-seven days after it disappeared with 239 people onboard, we still have no idea where it is or what happened to it. Now an airline group is pushing to make sure it doesn't happen again. It is planning to offer a list of recommendations to improve the way aircraft across the world are tracked.

Our aviation analyst and former transportation department inspector general Mary Schiavo joins us. Mary, give us a sense of how this system would work.

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: The system and there are several out there. So what IATA, the international aviation transport association in conjunction with ICAO, the group we heard about, which is an offshoot of the United Nations, they want to get together and make sure we get a system in place and that they recommend the same system or similar system around the world so all planes flying across the ocean can do it. So it is very much like the Inmarsat system, or could be, so that the plane will automatically transmit. It can transmit every ten minutes or every minute or every hour, but if they put this in place, and it would be through satellites, and there are other systems, Iridium has a system, and with the new air traffic control system ADS A through C, we could do it to. So it would be very much like the data we have heard from Inmarsat if that's the route they go.

BERMAN: So Mary, my reaction to this is, obviously yes. Why aren't we doing this already? What's the barrier here?

SCHIAVO: Well, you know, some people say the barrier is cost but that can't be in. Already 6,300 planes are equipped with equipment that would allow it to communicate with Inmarsat. Like I said there's other companies. One called Iridium and others. But only a little over 2,000, I think 2011 of them actually use it. The cost has come down so much because of the expansion and development of equipment that it's only 50 cents a message. So if your plane sends a message every ten minutes, that's $3 an hour per plane. It's very affordable if you buy the equipment.

BERMAN: Is it a privacy concern among pilots? Is that the issue? They don't want prying eyes on them 24 hours a day?

SCHIAVO: No. The issue has been two things. Issue as the airlines say it's costly to do and it's still a new system. We don't have a uniform system throughout the world. So nations have not adopted laws. In our country, airlines won't do things unless it's federal aviation regulation unless it's law. So it's really good that IATA and ICAO are getting together and going to recommend a system. And then every nation will have to adopt that in their air regulations and make it law. And then the airlines will have to do it and will have it.

BERMAN: Finally, is this a system that can't be turned off? Do we know that it's, relatively speaking, foolproof?

SCHIAVO: No. Right now anything can be turned off because you can pull the fuses or the buses as they call it, because they were worried about if a system catches on fire, you want to be able to disable it. So they are going to have to put the controls to that somewhere in the plane where it can't be turned off so we're never without -- something as simple as a transponder so no plane flying, certainly no across the ocean, can ever be turned, the system cant be turned off. Just since June 2009, we have had 11 major planes go down over water and in 10 of the 11 crashes one black box could not be found. It does have to be -- it has to be a tradeoff of risk but it's really important that it cannot be shut off.

BERMAN: So many lessons from Flight 370. Mary Schiavo thank you so much for joining us. Really appreciate it.

SCHIAVO: Thank you.

BERMAN: Coming up, U.S. soldier is free at last. He was held by the Taliban for five years. The U.S. traded for his release. Was the cost too high? Could it put other soldiers at risk? We'll speak to a retired major general to ask these questions, coming up.