Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma charged that the White House is making Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl the central focus of the recent prisoner exchange to distract attention from a more critical issue — "allowing five of the most heinous terrorists out of Guantanamo to kill more Americans."
In an exclusive interview with Newsmax on Monday, Inhofe said that reporters and critics of the controversial prisoner exchange do a "great disservice" by keeping the discussion on Bergdahl and his status as soldier and prisoner.
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"Forget about Bergdahl," said Inhofe, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. "Even if he was a winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, the issue is not 'leaving soldiers behind on the battlefield,' as the Obama administration wants it to be. Talking about Bergdahl distracts from the real issue.
"The issue real issue is freeing terrorists from Guantanamo. And now, five will be freed to kill more Americans," Inhofe said.
Inhofe criticized what he considers President Barack Obama's "blatant violation of the law enacted by Congress" in order to secure the exchange of Bergdahl for the five Taliban combatants.
Section 1035(d) of the 2014 Defense Authorization Act states that Congress will be notified 30 days before a transfer from Guantanamo. Elements required in the notification include: "(1) a detailed statement of the basis for the transfer or release; (2) an explanation of why the transfer or release is in the national security interests of the United States; (3) a description of any actions taken to mitigate the risks of re-engagement by the individual to be transferred or released."
Inhofe said the president "did not meet any of these three requirements prior to our learning of the transfer."
Inhofe noted that the recidivism rate of terrorist prisoners freed from the Guantanamo Bay prisoner camp returning to combat is "roughly 30 percent." Inhofe also cited remarks by Taliban leaders to the American media hailing the boost to morale among the Taliban after the release of five prisoners.
In a rare statement released to reporters last week, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar praised the prisoner exchange as a "great victory" for the Taliban.
NBC News also quoted a Taliban commander who said "the release of Mullah Fazal Akhund, Noorullah Noori, Abdul Haq Wasiq, Khairullah Khairkhwa, and Mohammad Nabi Omari will boost the morale of their fighters."
The same day Inhofe spoke to Newsmax, acting White House press secretary Josh Earnest was asked several questions during the regular White House briefing about the prisoner exchange. All three questions included references to Bergdahl, and Earnest replied by citing the president's strong commitment to "those who wear the uniform" and "not to leave them behind."
"The goal of this recent effort was to secure the release of Sgt. Bergdahl. That was achieved," Earnest said.
And Friday, at a media breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, White House counselor John Podesta was asked about the exchange that brought Bergdahl home.
"The president knew this was a controversial decision," Podesta said, "and he makes no apologies for it." The main reason Obama agreed to it, Podesta said, is his "commitment to leave no one behind."
But Inhofe said that Bergdahl's status is not the issue.
He told Newsmax: "You reporters are asking the wrong questions of the administration when they dwell on Bergdahl."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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