Army Sgt. Bowe Berghdal is pictured in this undated handout photo provided by the U.S. Army and received by Reuters on Saturday. Republican lawmakers are pushing for public hearings on the deal to free five members of the Taliban from Guantanamo in return for Bergdahl. (Reuters)
32 total votes.
WASHINGTON — Georgia’s two U.S. senators are among the lawmakers expressing concern over the release of five Guantanamo Bay Naval Base prisoners who have been deemed dangerous in exchange for a U.S. soldier who had been held for five years by the Taliban following his capture in Afghanistan.
“After five long years, I am pleased to join the American people … in welcoming home Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl,” U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Moultrie, said. “However, the United States has a long-standing policy of not negotiating with terrorists, and I am deeply troubled the Obama administration not only broke this policy, but also did so without the notification or consent of Congress, as required by law.”
Chambliss, vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said that six months ago he was “assured by the administration they would not consider the release of these senior Taliban leaders without consulting Congress,” but that the White House “violated that commitment.”
“The security assurances the United States has been given regarding these terrorists is feeble at best, and I fear it is only a matter of time before they resume their terrorist activities,” Chambliss said. “These men are not soldiers; they are dangerous terrorists and President Obama should be treating them as such.”
Late Monday afternoon, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Marietta, had a similar observation.
“I am pleased Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will be returning home to his family and loved ones,” Isakson said. “However, I am extremely disappointed with the way the president chose to circumvent Congress and negotiate with terrorists in direct violation of the law and the U.S. protocol in dealing with terrorists.
“The president’s actions are in direct contrast to 35 years of established American policy. I am deeply concerned that this deal sets a very dangerous precedent of allowing terrorists to negotiate using U.S. soldiers as hostages, putting our forces in Afghanistan and around the world at even greater risk.”
The remaining two members of the congressional delegation that represents Southwest Georgia — U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, and U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, R-Tifton — have not made statements regarding the solider’s release and the circumstances surrounding it.
Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers are demanding public hearings on the issue.
The deal was broker by the Qatari government, which enabled the Obama administration to work around U.S. policy that forbids negotiations with terrorists.
The released prisoners, who had been held at Guantanamo since 2002, have been identified as Mohammed Fazl, the former Taliban defense minister until its fall in 2001 and a man who U.S. authorities say was responsible for the killing of thousands of Afghanistan’s minority Shi’ite Muslims between 1998 and 2001; Fazl, Mullah Norullah Noori; Mohammed Nabi; Khairullah Khairkhwa, and Abdul Haq Wasiq. All five were identified by the Pentagon as being “high risk” detainees who presented a high risk to U.S. security.
Under terms of the release, administration officials said the quintet will have to stay in Qatar for a year and will be monitored. The White House says it received “very specific” assurances from the Qatari government on the terms under which it accepted the prisoner and would monitor them.
Many Republican legislators, however, doubt the deal will prevent the five ex-prisoners from getting back into the battle against America and the Afghan government.
“I have little confidence in the security assurances regarding the movement and activities of the now released Taliban leaders and I have even less confidence in this administration’s willingness to ensure they are enforced,” Mike Rogers, Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a report late Monday by Reuters News Service.
The mysterious circumstances of Bergdahl’s capture also has some questioning the deal. Former Army comrades of the sergeant say he deserted his post, leading to the deaths of six fellow soldiers as they searched for the missing Bergdahl.
In a report this morning by Reuters, President Barack Obama defended the action taken and said he had kept Congress apprised of the situation. Regardless of how the sergeant came to be held by the Taliban, bringing him home was the only option, the president said.
“Whatever those circumstances may turn out to be, we still get an American soldier back if he’s held in captivity. Period. Full stop,” Obama told a news conference in Poland.
The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff said today that the army “will not look away from misconduct if it occurred” although other military officials have indicated Bergdahl would not face any charges after his five-year ordeal.
Bergdahl, who was flown to a military hospital in Germany over the weekend to undergo physical and mental assessments, was not being interrogated and had not yet seen his family, Obama said.
The president said his administration had told lawmakers earlier about a possible swap.
“We have consulted with Congress for quite some time about the possibility that we might need to execute a prisoner exchange in order to recover Sgt. Bergdahl. We saw an opportunity. We were concerned about Sgt. Bergdahl’s health,” Obama said. “We seized that opportunity. And the process was truncated because we wanted to make sure that we did not miss that window.”
Meanwhile, Reuters is reporting today that the ex-prisoners are being allowed to move about freely in Qatar.
“All five men received medical checks and they now live with their families in an accommodation facility in Doha,” a senior Gulf officials, who declined to be identified, told Reuters. “They can move around freely within the country.”
The official said the Taliban members have been granted Qatar residency permits, won’t be treated like prisoners while in Doha and that the U.S. will not be involved in monitoring the five men’s movements in Qatar.
“Under the deal they have to stay in Qatar for a year and then they will be allowed to travel outside the country… They can go back to Afghanistan if they want to,” the official told Reuters.
Bergdahl’s hometown of Hailey, Idaho, is planning a June 28 celebration of his return, but not everyone is happy with the situation.
Robert Andrews told Reuters he believed his son, 2nd Lt. Darryn Andrews, 34, might still be alive if Bergdahl had not gone missing on June 30, 2009.
“Basically, my son died unnecessarily, hunting for a guy that we shouldn’t even have been hunting for,” Andrews told Reuters.
Former comrades are accusing him of walking away from his unit and prompting a massive manhunt they say cost the lives of at least six fellow soldiers. “I think he wanted to get away from our side of the war,” said Greg Leatherman, who says he was in charge of Bergdahl’s unit the night he disappeared.
Reports by Reuters News Service were used in this article.