There’s a storm brewing on Capitol Hill over the way the Obama administration handled last weekend’s swap of five Taliban prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay prison facility to free Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. Congressmen on both sides of the aisle are questioning the wisdom of releasing five dangerous Taliban members, including Mullah Mohammad Fazl, a former Taliban senior commander accused of committing war crimes and the massacre of thousands of Shiites.
The word on the Hill is that Bergdahl is no hero. He reportedly abandoned his post and left behind a note that he had become disillusioned with the Army, did not support the American mission in Afghanistan, and was leaving his base to start a new life.
There are reports Bergdahl sought to talk with the Taliban and may have provided information allowing Taliban fighters to orchestrate better attacks against U.S. troops.
Six U.S soldiers — Staff Sergeant Clayton Bowen, Staff Sergeant Kurt Curtiss, 2nd Lieutenant Darryn Andrews, Staff Sergeant Michael Murphrey, Private 1st Class Matthew Martinek and Private 1st Class Morris Walker — reportedly died searching for Bergdahl over the past five years.
There are also growing doubts and anger from Congress over the administration’s justification for taking this action without providing Congress any advanced notification.
Is it true that Congress wasn’t informed because this was an emergency move taken due to increasing risks to Bergdahl’s health and safety? Video of Bergdahl as he boarded a helicopter after being released by the Taliban did not seem to show a sickly man.
The White House claim that Congress wasn’t informed in advance is hard to take seriously for two other reasons.
First, the Obama administration informed Congress in advance of the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden, a far more sensitive operation.
Second, Obama officials were on the verge of pushing forward with this swap a year ago but backed off after objections from Congress and Afghan President Karzai.
Many members of Congress are also angry that President Obama broke a law requiring him to notify Congress 30 days before any transfer of prisoners from Guantánamo Bay.
While I agree with President Obama that this law is probably an unconstitutional infringement on his authority to conduct foreign policy, he still should have notified Congress in advance of this deal not because he was required to do so under the law, but due to the importance of winning Congressional buy-in and political support for such a controversial and risky initiative.
A last-minute phone call to top congressional leaders would have sufficed. This would have allowed the president to say he consulted with Congress, noted its objections, but decided to move forward anyway for national security reasons under his constitutional authority to conduct U.S. foreign policy.
Instead, the way the Obama administration implemented this deal makes it look like it was trying to sneak something past Congress. By keeping Congress in the dark about the Bergdahl-Taliban swap, the president indicated that he may break other laws he disagrees with and does not trust Congress.
The president will lose a significant amount of his already greatly diminished good will with Congress over these perceptions.
Then there is National Security Adviser Susan Rice’s statement on ABC’s "This Week" last Sunday that Bergdahl “served the United States with honor and distinction.” After Rice’s wildly inaccurate statements on Sunday morning talk shows in September 2012 about the terrorist attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, many have questioned the wisdom of putting her on national television for a second time to make what appear to be demonstrably false statements about another controversial international security matter.
While the president could have made a plausible case for the Bergdahl swap, he and his administration instead dressed it up in lies and refused to consult with Congress. By doing so, they created enormous and unnecessary political problems for themselves. Ambassador Rice’s fatuous comment goes to the heart of this new fiasco and suggests she either did not understand the facts about the Bergdahl swap or lied about them.
Given the damage this affair has done to the president’s relations with Congress and his support from the American people, heads (or at least one head) should roll. Apologies by NSC staffers to Congress and today’s closed-door briefing by top intelligence and military officials to all members of the Senate are not enough. The top official who advised the president to approve the Bergdahl swap plan must go. That’s why I believe the president’s National Security Adviser — Susan Rice — must resign.
Fred Fleitz served for 25 years with the CIA, the State Department, and the House Intelligence Committee staff. He is currently Chief Analyst with LIGNET.com, Newsmax Media’s global intelligence and forecasting service. Read more reports from Fred Fleitz — Click Here Now.
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