GOP Concerned Bergdahl Deal First Step to Empty Gitmo

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Monday, 02 Jun 2014 06:59 AM

By Elliot Jager

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Congressional Republicans are concerned that President Barack Obama is ramping up efforts to close Guantanamo Bay prison unilaterally, according to The Daily Beast.

Republicans see the deal to trade five senior Taliban held at Guantanamo for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl as a possible precursor to fulfilling Obama's 2014 State of the Union pledge to close the facility, the website reported.

While the law requires the president to notify Congress 30 days in advance of any prisoner release, that didn't happen with the Bergdahl exchange.

Republicans want to keep Guantanamo open and the remaining 149 prisoners behind bars.
In the Bergdahl case, the White House took the position that there was no practical way to give Congress the mandated advance notice because the Qatari-brokered negotiations played out too rapidly, according to the Daily Beast.

California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the intelligence committee chairwoman, who had initially opposed negotiations to swap Bergdahl for high-ranking Taliban prisoners, appears to have changed her position.

Over the weekend, she issued a statement supporting the president's handling of the case. "It demonstrates that America leaves no soldier behind," she said, according to the Daily Beast.

How Bergdahl came to become a Taliban prisoner is unclear, with some reports suggesting he had left his post without permission, CNN reported.

Republican lawmakers were miffed that they heard about the release from the media, the Daily Beast reported. Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, himself a former Vietnam POW, said the freed Taliban were among the "highest high-risk people" being held, the BBC reported.

Republicans said that the White House had not told them what measures were in place to ensure the released Taliban did not pose a future threat, according to the Daily Beast.

The five freed inmates include the Taliban's deputy defense minister, interior minister, deputy minister of intelligence, a senior military commander, and a former chief of security. Most have been accused of war crimes, and some were conduits between the Taliban and al-Qaida, the BBC reported.

Obama said that Qatar had guaranteed "that it will put in place measures" to prevent the men from endangering future U.S. national security," according to the BBC.

Like the Bush administration before it, the Obama administration has been gradually shipping Guantanamo prisoners to third countries. About half of the remaining inmates are Yemeni, so Republicans are initiating steps to prevent any prisoner releases to Yemen.

An amendment spearheaded by New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte would block prisoner transfers from Guantanamo to Yemen — in effect preventing the president from closing the facility.

But the administration can transfer prisoners and close the facility faster than Congress can vote on the matter, according to the Daily Beast.

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