While the release of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was a cause for celebration in the hometown of the final United States POW of the Afghanistan war, Republicans on Capitol Hill were not throwing any parties. GOP Congress members blasted the deal made by the Obama administration to secure the release of Bowe Bergdahl as illegal, and dangerous to U.S forces abroad.
The 28-year-old Bowe Bergdahl, who hails from Hailey, Idaho, was captured by the Taliban on June 30 of 2009 and spent almost five years in captivity. While in the hands of the Taliban, Bergdahl was the subject of frequent propaganda videos released by his captors.
The Obama administration had sought his release ever since, but according to U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, reports that the soldier’s health was deteriorating rapidly and his life may be in danger gave a new urgency to negotiations to secure his release.
The administration traded five Taliban prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay to win Bergdahl’s freedom.
“How many soldiers lost their lives to capture those five Taliban leaders we just released?” said Texas Senator Ted Cruz on a Sunday morning talk show. “Have we just put a price on other U.S. soldiers?”
Republicans also accused President Barack Obama of breaking the law by not notifying congress of the deal 30 days in advance.
“In executing this transfer, the President clearly violated laws which require him to notify Congress thirty days before any transfer of terrorists from Guantanamo Bay and to explain how the threat posed by such terrorists has been substantially mitigated,” said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard McKeon and the ranking Republican on the Senate committee, James Inhofe, said in a joint statement. “Our joy at Sgt. Bergdahl’s release is tempered by the fact that President Obama chose to ignore the law, not to mention sound policy, to achieve it.”
When Obama signed the law requiring the 30-day notice period last December, he added a signing statement to the law expressing his belief that the time restriction was unconstitutional as it limited his power to act as commander-in-chief of the military and that he could therefore ignore the law in certain circumstances.
Hagel said that Article 2 of the Constitution, which spells out presidential powers, gives the president the authority to make deals such as the Bowe Bergdahl trade without notifying Congress.
Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice said that Congress was well aware that the negotiations for the Bowe Bergdahl prisoner exchange were taking place.
“This opportunity is one that has been briefed to Congress when we had past potential to have this kind of arrangement,” she said. Rice also said that because Bowe Bergdahl was a prisoner of war, not a “hostage,” it was the “sacred obligation” of the U.S. government to secure his release.
While Republicans accused the administration of “negotiating with terrorists,” to free Bowe Bergdahl, Rice said that all negotiations were conducted through the government of Qatar, and U.S. officials never met with the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network which held Bergdahl. The five released Taliban prisoners will remain in Qatar custody for one year.