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

Nigeria Incumbent in Tight Spot as Poll Nears

Muhammadu Buhari is running a strong challenge to Goodluck Jonathan, amid a faltering economy and Boko Haram security worries More

Video Liberia's Almost-Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo tells VOA that despite her fame, life is still a struggle as she waits for government's promise of support to arrive More

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

At least seven different indigenous groups in Ratanakiri depend mainly on forest products for their survival, say they face loss of their land, traditional way of life More

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.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More