The soldier who was returned to U.S. forces in exchange for the release of five Taliban operatives looked sick and drugged in a proof-of-life video, senators said Wednesday.
But Lawmakers emerging from a classified briefing by Pentagon personnel said that alone was a flimsy excuse for a questionable deal for the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
"I don't think from a health standpoint there was any issue that dictated the release of these five nasty killers in return for Bergdahl," said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. wants to know what assurances negotiators could offer that the released Taliban prisoners would not pose a future threat to American interests or its allies
"I was not satisfied from the briefing that I received today that the conditions that they’ve agreed upon are sufficient," Ayotte said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., also blasted the administration for engaging in talks to release prisoners as part of possible reconciliation with the Taliban, the Los Angeles Times reported early Thursday.
"The theory was that if we traded guys, that would show the moderate Taliban had clout," Graham said, calling the concept "disturbing." "I believe the decision to release these prisoners put our country in jeopardy."
Administration negotiators had demanded the video from his captors as a condition for beginning talks on last weekend's prisoner-of-war swap.
"He didn't look good. I understand the emotional power that that video would have had on the president," Senate Republican Mark Kirk told reporters.
He said Bergdahl spoke in stammering English, and provided proof of life facts such as the death of Nelson Mandela last December, meaning the video was at most six months old.
Sen. Dick Durbin added that the video "made clear that this man was not in good condition," a situation he said may have prompted the call for immediate action by the White House to rescue the soldier who had been held captive by the Taliban in Afghanistan since 2009.
"He looked either drugged or tired or sick," Durbin said. "It's hard to describe, but he did not look like a normal person."
President Barack Obama has described Bergdahl's deteriorating health and an imminent danger risk as justifications for the hasty rescue.
But while Democrat Joe Manchin agreed that Bergdahl had looked drugged, he opposed the idea that the soldier's poor condition justified the White House taking swift action and avoiding consultations with Congress before the swap was made.
"His health was not the critical factor," Manchin said.
With concern mounting over how the prisoner swap was carried out, more senators expressed anger that five hardened extremists were released from Guantanamo to Qatar, where authorities are required to hold the men for one year.
"I'm increasingly skeptical that this was a good trade for America," Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said.
"We've also released five very dangerous individuals who I believe will rejoin the fight against America. And we've set a precedent that now will encourage other enemies of the United States to seek out to try and capture American men and women in uniform."
Sen. John McCain, himself a former POW in Vietnam, blasted the swap as a disaster for national security.
"I promise you, in a year from now, if not before, they will be back in Afghanistan and in the fight," the Arizona Republican said.
Critics have also zeroed in on the controversial circumstances of Bergdahl's capture. The senators also wanted more details about any evidence that Bergdahl deserted.
"We were told that that was simply not correct," Chambliss said, adding that the Army "does not play games with us on issues like that." He added that emails from Bergdhal that have been published with similar language "may or may not be legitimate."
Lawmakers are expect further briefings over the coming weeks as the administration faces growing hostility about why they were not briefed about the mission ahead of time.
"I think that they expected everybody just to fall in line," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times before Wednesday’s briefing. "A lot could have been avoided had we been called and advised and talked with."
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