Obama Advisers Repeatedly Told President Not to Deal

Image: Obama Advisers Repeatedly Told President Not to Deal Leon Panetta, left, and James Clapper

Thursday, 05 Jun 2014 08:16 PM

By Melanie Batley

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President Barack Obama was repeatedly advised by several of the nation's top military and intelligence officials not to engage in the prisoner swap to secure the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, which freed five senior Taliban leaders from Guantanamo prison, according to reports.

When the White House first began considering an exchange in 2011 and 2012, James Clapper, then director of National Intelligence, flat out rejected the release of the five detainees, according to The Daily Beast.

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Leon Panetta, former defense secretary and CIA director, also confirmed Wednesday that he was opposed to a possible Bergdahl prisoner swap during his tenure and questioned the deal Obama reached last week.

Panetta recalled that at the time discussions of a Bergdahl prisoner swap took place, "I said, 'Wait, I have an obligation under the law. If I send prisoners from Guantanamo, they have to guarantee they don't go back to the battlefield.' I had serious concerns."

He added he "just assumed it was never going to happen."

Clapper had a similar rationale, according to the Beast, and said the risk was too high that the Taliban leaders would return to the battlefield.

Intelligence and defense officials told the Beast that the deal that was arranged was hastily done, and in a manner that suggested it was designed to squelch dissent and impose the will of the White House.

"This was an example of forcing consensus," one military official told the Beast. "The White House knew the answer they wanted, and they ended up getting it."

Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has been vocal in her criticism of the deal and the White House's failure to inform Congress. She told the Beast that lawmakers also signaled opposition to a deal when it was discussed a few years ago.

"Should we have gotten advance warning? I actually think so," she said, adding, "We had participated in a number of briefings some time ago [on a possible future deal] and there was considerable concern."

In an opinion piece Wednesday in The Washington Post, political commentator George Will said Obama's behavior is reminiscent of former President Richard Nixon's attitude toward governing: "When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal."

Will wrote, "This episode will be examined by congressional committees, if they can pierce the administration's coming cover-up, which has been foreshadowed by the response to congressional attempts to scrutinize the politicization of the Internal Revenue Service. If the military stalls on turning over files to Congress pertaining to the five years of Bergdahl's absence, we will at least know that there is no national institution remaining to be corrupted."

White House press secretary Jay Carney came close to admitting that the decision ultimately came down to the president and his inner circle.

"It was the judgment of the team and the president that there was enough urgency here to ensure that Sgt. Bergdahl was safely recovered that a 30-day window of hoping that that opportunity remained open was not an option," Carney said Monday, according to Politico. "Ultimately, as commander in chief, the president had the responsibility to take the action he did."

Politico noted that the decision by the White House to pursue the deal "sends a clear message: As liberals and some conservatives have long argued, Obama is now willing to wield his executive powers to get the job done."

For a second time this week, Obama on Thursday defended the deal and insisted he "absolutely makes no apologies" for seeking the release of Bergdahl.

When it comes to getting soldiers back from war, Obama said, "We don't condition whether we make the effort to get them back."

He reinforced the administration's justification that Bergdahl's declining health was the driving justification for the decision.

"We saw an opportunity, and we seized it. And I make no apologies for that," he said.

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