Republicans say Obama violated law in Bergdahl exchange

Republican representatives say President Obama violated law during exchange process of US Army Sergeant Bergdahl for five Taliban members held in Guantanamo prison

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is pictured in this undated handout photo provided by the US Army.

US Republican Congressmen on Thursday accused President Barack Obama of breaking the law by ignoring a 30-day notification requirement in the 2014 Guantanamo prisoners exchange for the release of US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl from Afghanistan.

A 98-page report released by Republican dominated House Armed Services Committee said that the exchange operation “was not merely a mechanism to recover” Bergdahl, but a part of Obama’s plan to close Guantanamo Bay prison by using this exchange to “rid itself of five of the most dangerous and problematic detainees” that would otherwise be difficult to release.

In doing so, the report said, the Obama administration ignored a national defence bill requirement to notify the Congress 30 days prior to the transfer of Guantanamo detainees, claiming it “was precluded by the exigencies of the circumstances,” referring to the life-risk of Bergdahl.

During his presidential campaign and throughout his term in office, US President Barack Obama has vowed several times to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.

In 2009, Obama signed an executive order to close the Guantanamo Bay prison in a year by releasing as much detainees as he can and transferring the remaining detainees to US supermax prisons, however his efforts were stalled by Republican majority Congress.

Republican Representative and the committee's chairman Mac Thornberry said Congress “was misled about the status of negotiations,” before the exchange.

"It is irresponsible to put these terrorists that much closer to the battlefield to settle a campaign promise and unconscionable to mislead Congress in the process," he said.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest on the other hand said Obama administration “complied with the law” throughout the exchange process.

Democratic members of the committee in a dissenting statement referenced then Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel saying Obama administration did “what we believed was in the best interests of our country, our military, and Sergeant Bergdahl.”

Obama has “authorities to protect American citizens and members of [the US] armed forces,” Hagel said.

On June 30, 2009, Bergdahl abandoned his post in Afghanistan and was almost immediately captured by Taliban and was subjected to abuse and torture.

Almost 4 years after Bergdahl’s capture, Taliban spokesman in Qatar suggested trading five Guantanamo detainees referred as “Taliban 5” in exchange for the US sergeant as part of “the reconciliation discussions.”

After the discussions, Qatar served as an “intermediary” with the Taliban, Sergeant Bergdahl was handed off at a prearranged remote location in Afghanistan on May 31, 2014 after five Guantanamo detainees were released to Qatar on May 29.

A report published by the office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) in early March said that one of the five prisoners released from Guantanamo had again associated with the Taliban.

The committee also accused Obama of excluding senior officials within the Department of Defense in the process, who are experts of terrorism risk assessment, blaming him for “increasing the chance that the transfer would have dangerous consequences.”

However, dissenters in the committee said the potential risk has been managed so far.

They also pointed out that precautions never “equate to zero-risk guaranty,” and risks had to be taken in order to bring the US soldier back home safely.

The five former Taliban leaders remain in Qatar, where they are prohibited from leaving the country.

TRTWorld and agencies