Kerry: It Would Have Been 'Offensive' To Leave Bergdahl With People Who Would 'Torture Him, Cut Off His Head'

06/08/2014 12:11 pm ET | Updated Jun 09, 2014

Secretary of State John Kerry had no patience on Sunday for critics of President Barack Obama's decision to trade Taliban prisoners for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, saying the consequences of inaction would have been unconscionable.

"It would have been offensive and incomprehensible to consciously leave an American behind, no matter what, to leave an American behind in the hands of people who would torture him, cut off his head, do any number of things," Kerry said on CNN's "State of the Union," according to a transcript. "We would consciously choose to do that?"

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) -- who had previously endorsed an arrangement to exchange Taliban prisoners of war in American custody for Bergdahl -- has been one of the most vocal GOP critics of the ultimate deal, earning the chagrin of Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler.

On the same CNN program, McCain defended his stance, saying he never approved of the five specific Taliban prisoners who were released under the exchange.

"I never signed off on those individuals," McCain said, although as Kessler notes, the five prisoners who were ultimately released have always been at the heart of negotiations over any prisoner swap. Under traditional rules of war, the U.S. government would be required to release the five POWs at the end of the Afghanistan war.

Conservative pundits and GOP politicians have questioned the Obama-arranged deal, with many saying Bergdahl deserted his post before he was captured. On Sunday, Kerry said that the military would sort out the specifics regarding Bergdahl's 2009 departure from an Army base in Afghanistan in due course, but that it was simply not acceptable to leave an American in the hands of the Taliban as the war winds down. Obama is withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

"There's plenty of time for people to sort through what happened, what didn't happen," Kerry said.

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