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

Lion Cecil's Killing Sparks 'Canned Hunting' Debate in S. Africa

Conservationists believe incident, which triggered worldwide outrage, will reshape debate about practice in which hunters are allowed to target animals bred for hunting More

Taliban's New Leader Says Jihad Will Continue

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Environmentalists Issue Warning on Mekong Biodiversity

Scientists say decades of economic development, hydropower-dam construction, lax law enforcement and trafficking have taken their toll 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.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs