News / USA

    Hagel Defends Taliban Prisoner Swap

    Hagel Defends Bergdahl-Taliban Swap on Capitol Hilli
    X
    Michael Bowman
    June 11, 2014 8:47 PM
    The swap of a U.S. soldier for five Taliban militants continues to roil Capitol Hill, where U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel defended the deal as the right decision made under imperfect circumstances. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Hagel testified before the House Armed Services Committee - the first public congressional airing of the controversy surrounding the liberation of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.
    Related video report by VOA's Michael Bowman
    VOA News
    U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said exceptional circumstances did not allow time to provide advance notice to Congress about the release of captured Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.

    Hagel told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday the decision to free five Taliban detainees from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in exchange for Bergdahl was a tough call. 

    He faced tough questions from lawmakers about the Obama administration's decision to not inform Congress ahead of time or give them details of the exchange, which has drawn criticism from lawmakers in both parties.

    Representative Howard "Buck" McKeon, the Republican chairman of the committee, criticized the Obama administration of failing to consult with lawmakers over the exchange and said the move violated laws governing the transfer of Guantanamo detainees.

    Hagel agreed that the administration may have fallen short on keeping lawmakers fully informed of the deal, but he stressed concerns that if details of the plan were leaked, it may have unraveled. He added that they viewed this option as a last chance to win Bergdahl's release.

    McKeon called the exchange "deeply disturbing," saying "this transfer sets a dangerous precedent in negotiating with terrorists."

    However, Hagel argued that Bergdahl was a prisoner of war, not a hostage, and winning his release conforms to long-standing U.S. policy to recover military personnel held captive.

    "There are legitimate questions about this prisoner exchange," Hagel said. But "I would never agree to any decision that wasn't in the best interest of this country, nor would the president of the United States.

    "In the decision to rescue Sergeant Bergdahl, we complied with the law, and we did what we believed was in the best interests of our country, our military, and Sergeant Bergdahl," Hagel said.
     
    Exchange timeline

    Last month, the Taliban agreed to free Bergdahl, a U.S. soldier held captive in Afghanistan for five years. In exchange, the U.S. agreed to free five high-level Taliban prisoners from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
     
    Obama administration officials have been defending a decision to move forward on the exchange without providing Congress the required 30-day notice before Guantanamo inmates are released.

    Hagel described, in general terms, the details of the prisoner exchange and the administration's rationale for keeping the deal quiet.

    Hagel called the attempt to free Bergdahl an extraordinary situation that had to consider numerous moving parts, including concerns about Bergdahl's health and safety, last-minute arrangements over where and when the hand-off would occur, and fears that the Taliban might not hold up their end of the deal.

    In April, he said, the Taliban signaled an interest in indirect talks for an exchange. The U.S. then began intensified discussions with Qatar, which was acting as an intermediary.

    On May 12, Hagel said, the U.S. and Qatar reached an agreement that detailed the specific security measures, including travel restrictions and monitoring, that would be undertaken and enforced by Qatar, should they take custody of any Taliban prisoners.

    More specific security measures were to be discussed in a closed portion of the hearing.

    Shortly after this agreement was signed, Hagel said U.S. officials received a warning from intermediaries that led them to think there was a growing risk concerning Bergdahl's safety.

    After several days of intense negotiations, a prisoner exchange deal was signed on May 27, the same day that Obama received a commitment from Qatar to uphold the security arrangements of the exchange.

    Fears of leaks

    As the exchange date neared, "we were told by the Qataris that any leak would end the negotiations" for Bergdahl's release, Hagel said.

    Given that Bergdahl would be vulnerable while being moved and U.S. forces conducting the hand-off would be exposed in territory that was not under U.S. control, "for all these reasons and more, the exchange needed to take place quickly, efficiently and quietly," Hagel said, in defending the administration's decision.

    "We maintain the exchange was our last attempt" to free Bergdahl, he said.

    "After the exchange was set in motion, only 96 hours passed" before Bergdahl was in hand," Hagel said.

    The general location of the hand-off was not known until 24 hours before the rescue; the exact location was known only an hour before, Hagel said. 

    It wasn't known until Bergdahl was handed over to U.S. Special Operations Forces that the Taliban would hold up their end of the deal, he added.
     
    Taliban released

    Republican House speaker John Boehner this week accused the administration of making Americans "less safe" by releasing five high-level Taliban prisoners in exchange for Bergdahl's freedom.
     
    Boehner said he has no doubt lives will be lost because of the prisoner transfer.

    In his testimony, Hagel said there is always some risk associated with the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo. 

    But in the case of these five Taliban, Hagel said the threat they posed to the United States, American citizens and U.S. interests was substantially mitigated.

    "They have not been implicated in any attacks against the United States, and we had no basis to prosecute them in a federal court or military commission. It was appropriate to consider them for an exchange," he said.

    "And if any of these detainees ever try to rejoin the fight, they would be doing so at their own peril," Hagel added.

    Hagel said "the exchange was done legally" and the Justice Department told the administration the president had the constitutional authority to approve the deal.

    Under terms of the deal, the five were released last month to the custody of Qatar for at least one year. Hagel said Qatar has committed to adequate security measures that led him to decide the risks of the transfer were substantially mitigated.

    Republican House speaker John Boehner has accused the administration of making Americans "less safe" by releasing the five prisoners.

    Bergdahl's condition

    At the start of the hearing, chairman McKeon said the committee would not discuss the circumstances surrounding Bergdahl's disappearance from his military unit in Afghanistan.

    There are questions about whether he left on his own before he was captured. The U.S. Army has said it will investigate.

    Bergdahl is being treated at a U.S. military hospital in Germany. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday that the soldier has continued to improve and is engaging with hospital staff more and more each day.
     
    However, Kirby said, Bergdahl's reassimilation will be a "long process" and he will need time to heal mentally and physically.

    You May Like

    US Watching as North Korea Opens Biggest Political Meeting in Decades

    As Workers' Party Congress opens, Washington anticipating possibility of another missile launch or nuclear test as top officials gather

    Video Pop Icon Prince Quietly Helped Afghan Orphans for Years

    He sent thousands of dollars to help an aid group rebuild a training center for orphan boy and girl scouts in Kabul, but kept his involvement secret

    Britain’s Muslims See London Mayor Race as Victory

    Mere running of 45-year-old former government minister and son of Pakistani immigrants Sadiq Khan seen by many as turning point

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: corneliusvansant from: Florida
    June 11, 2014 5:03 PM
    Of course it would have unraveled because of the public firestorm. But the despot just arrogantly and giving comfort to the enemy did it anyway. There is no motivation for the Taliban to care about releasing the details and the very idea is disingenuous. The lies come so easily; that is the disturbing part. Some people think incompetence; others fear treachery.

    by: meanbill from: USA
    June 11, 2014 12:22 PM
    MY OPINION? -- The (5) senior Taliban leaders were released because the Afghan Taliban demanded it -- (BECAUSE?) -- these (5) senior Taliban leaders will lead the negotiation with the US, (on the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan), with guarantees the Taliban won't attack the retreating US troops, (and) these secret negotiations offering other incentives to the Taliban), have been going on for over (4) years....

    PICTURE THIS? -- The "official Taliban headquarters" is in Qatar, (and), where did they release the (5) senior Taliban leaders? -- (WHAT ABOUT BERGDAHL?) -- Bergdahl is just a diversion, to cover-up the real reason the (5) senior Taliban were released. -- (AND THAT IS?) -- The US and Taliban negotiations on US troop retreating from Afghanistan ...... REALLY
    In Response

    by: AfghanVet from: USA
    June 18, 2014 2:43 PM
    You're a fool to think the US actually retreats from the Taliban. If you've seen what i've seen, your mind may be persuaded. The US has superior firepower, training, and technology over these thugs. "Retreating" from Afghanistan and "withdrawing" are two totally different words.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Donations Rescue Afghan Parents, Children From Forced Labori
    X
    May 05, 2016 6:44 PM
    A Facebook campaign organized by a VOA radio host raised 150,000 Afghan rupees to rescue a family from forced labor at a brick kiln in Nangarhar province – the result of the father’s unpaid debt. Video by a VOA reporter in Jalalabad went viral this week and triggered the Facebook campaign.
    Video

    Video Donations Rescue Afghan Parents, Children From Forced Labor

    A Facebook campaign organized by a VOA radio host raised 150,000 Afghan rupees to rescue a family from forced labor at a brick kiln in Nangarhar province – the result of the father’s unpaid debt. Video by a VOA reporter in Jalalabad went viral this week and triggered the Facebook campaign.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Troops Recount Firefight Which Killed US Navy SEAL

    A U.S. Navy SEAL killed Tuesday, when Islamic State fighters punched through Kurdish lines in northern Iraq, was part of a quick reaction force sent to extract other U.S. troops trapped by the surprise offensive. VOA's Kawa Omar spoke with Kurdish troops in the town of Telskuf -- the scene of what U.S. officials called a "dynamic firefight."
    Video

    Video British Lawmakers Warn EU Exit Talks Could Last A Decade

    Leaving the European Union would mean difficult negotiations that could take years to complete, according to a bipartisan group of British lawmakers. While the group did not recommend a vote either way, the lawmakers noted trade deals between the EU and non-EU states take between four and nine years on average. Henry Ridgwell reports on the mounting debate over whether Britain should stay or exit the EU as the June vote approaches.
    Video

    Video NASA Astronauts Train for Commercial Space Flights

    Since the last Shuttle flight in 2011, the United States has been relying on Russian rockets to launch fresh crews to the International Space Station. But that may change in the next few years. NASA and several private space companies are developing advanced capsules capable of taking humans into low orbit and beyond. As VOA's George Putic reports, astronauts are already training for commercial spacecraft in flight simulators.
    Video

    Video US Worried Political Chaos in Iraq Will Hurt IS Fight

    The White House is expressing concern about rising political chaos in Iraq and the impact it could have on the fight against the Islamic State. The U.S. says Iraq needs a stable, central government to help push back the group. But some say Baghdad may not have a unified government any time soon. VOA's White House correspondent Mary Alice Salinas reports.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora