Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel claims that the Obama White House put pressure on him to sign off on the release of more terrorist detainees from the prison at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay Cuba.
Hagel offered this revelation in an interview yesterday with CNN reporter Barbara Starr.
As the Inquisitr reported this week, the five Taliban commanders released from Gitmo in the Bowe Bergdahl swap may have resumed contact with Al Qaeda. There have also been reports that at least one has returned to the battlefield. Hagel also said that he still supports the decision to make the exchange for Sgt. Bergdahl, who allegedly will be charged with desertion by the Army.
President Obama has thus far been unable to fulfill a campaign promise to shutter the Gitmo facility altogether because of opposition from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress.
A September 2014 recidivism report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence indicates that 107 of 620 detainees released from Gitmo have returned to terrorism activity as of the previous July. Another 77 were “suspected of reengaging.”
A former U.S. Senator from Nebraska and Vietnam combat veteran, Hagel resigned or was fired in late November. In December, the president nominated former Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, who never served in the military, as Hagel’s replacement. The U.S. Senate has yet to take up the nomination, however. Carter would be the fourth Defense Secretary in the eight years of the Obama administration.
In the interview, Hagel told Starr that the Defense Secretary must personally approve any prisoner transfers out of Gitmo and that he took that responsibility very seriously. “Not everyone at the White House agreed with me… probably on the pace of releases,” he explained.
When asked specifically about pressure from key White House staff to go faster, Hagel diplomatically said that he “had a lot of conversations” with the Obama administration as well as Congress about the release of enemy detainees. Perhaps Hagel is holding back in favor of the inevitable book contract.
Commenting on the interview with the outgoing SecDef, Starr declared that Hagel provided confirmation that the Obama inner circle wanted Hagel to move faster on approving the release of more detainees from Guantanamo Bay.
The U.S. is still holding about 120 enemy combatants at the prison. Hagel released about 44 during his time in office.
Watch the clip below and draw your own conclusions.
At the time of Hagel’s November resignation, The New York Times claimed that the Gitmo issue prompted his departure. “In the view of White House officials, Mr. Hagel has helped to thwart Mr. Obama’s pledge to close Guantánamo with his concerns about the security risks posed by the release of detainees. He recently pulled back from plans to repatriate four Afghans who had been approved for transfer, a decision that annoyed [National Security Advisor Susan] Rice, officials said.”
According to a Politico article about the end of Chuck Hagel’s tenure at the Pentagon, “Hagel’s predecessors — [Leon] Panetta and Robert Gates — both complained about the level of micromanagement from the White House and its National Security Council. Although Hagel has kept mostly quiet about it, by all accounts, that intense level of scrutiny has persisted.”