Leon Panetta, former defense secretary and CIA director, questioned President Barack Obama's decision to swap Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five senior members of the Taliban, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Panetta was CIA director from 2009 to 2011 and defense secretary from 2011 to 2013. During his tenure, Panetta opposed trading terrorists for Bergdahl, who was held captive by the Taliban since 2009, when he left his post in Afghanistan after becoming disillusioned with the war.
Speaking at an energy conference in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, Panetta said that while discussions for a similar trade took place when he worked in Obama's administration, he "just assumed it was never going to happen," according to the newspaper.
Panetta expressed concern that the Guantanamo Bay detainees would return to fighting against the United States if released.
"I said, 'Wait, I have an obligation under the law,'" Panetta recalled. "If I send prisoners from Guantanamo, they have to guarantee they don't go back to the battlefield. I had serious concerns."
Obama has assured the American people the secret deal reached with the Qatari government requires that the five former prisoners' travel be restricted for a year. The Daily Beast
reported that word from Doha is that the prisoners are roaming free with "little or no supervision."
In Pittsburgh, Panetta questioned whether there are adequate safeguards in place to ensure "these terrorists don't go back into battle."
Criticism from current and former members of his cabinet, such as Panetta, will further erode the president's embattled public relations campaign surrounding Bergdahl's release, according to former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Cully Stimson, who served under President George W. Bush.
Panetta "knew better than almost anybody that if you repatriate these senior leaders, they would be a threat," Stimson told the Tribune-Review. "I can see why he would have been totally against the deal."
According to The Washington Post
, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and current National Intelligence Director James Clapper all opposed former iterations of a prisoner exchange.
The administration has been attacked since the exchange took place, including calls for hearings. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, has criticized the president for failing to notify Congress 30 days before releasing a prisoner from Guantanamo Bay, as required by the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014.
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