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

Diplomats Work to Extend Israeli-Palestinian Cease-Fire

US Secretary of State John Kerry, diplomats from France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Turkey and Qatar gathered in Paris Saturday to discuss crisis More

Photogallery US Defense Department Warns of Arms to Eastern Ukraine

‘Imminent’ delivery of Russian rocket launcher poses threat to civilians, US says More

Video Researchers: Africa Genetically Modified Crops Held Back by Scaremongering

GM crops offer best hope of increasing productivity and coping with climate change in Africa, according to co-author of Chatham House report 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 in Underwater Labi
X
George Putic
July 25, 2014 7:25 PM
In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid