Time Report: Prisoner Swap 'Out of the Norm'

Tuesday, 03 Jun 2014 08:00 PM

By Cathy Burke

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The Obama administration's prisoner swap was "out of the norm"  — overriding an existing interagency process and dismissing concerns about the danger posed by five Taliban leaders released in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, Time reported Tuesday.

The release process was set up after President Barack Obama in January 2009 ordered a Justice Department review of 240 people detained at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Time noted, and the five Taliban leaders were determined to be high-risk for reverting back to fighting Americans if sprung.

"These five are clearly bad dudes," one source told Time.

Pentagon and intelligence authorities who fought against their release had been helped in the past by a law passed during Obama's first term that set up stringent conditions, Time noted.

That all changed with passage of the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, which allows the secretary of defense to release Guantanamo prisoners when it's in the national security interest, making it easier for the president to exert his commander-in-chief powers, Time reported.

As a result, the swap for Afghanistan prisoner-of-war Bergdahl let the prison doors swing wide open for the five Taliban leaders.

"This was out of the norm," one source told Time. "There was never the conversation."

Time reported that behind the scenes, the State Department and White House were trying to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban, and springing the five leaders was thought to be a chance to pave the way.

Opponents said they came under constant pressure to prove just how dangerous the five Taliban were, Time reported.

"It was a heavy burden to show they were bad," the source told Time.

Absent a Taliban peace deal, letting the Taliban chiefs loose made no sense at all, another source told Time.

"When our military is engaged in combat operations, you're always going to err on the side of caution," that source said.

"Just conceptually, how much sense does it make to release your enemy when you’re still at war with him?"

Republicans question whether Obama went too far even under the new law, which still requires 30 days’ notice ahead of a release from Guantanamo Bay, Time noted. Administration officials told members of the Senate armed services and intelligence committees "repeatedly they weren’t going to [release the five men] and they would be notified and consulted if they did," a GOP Senate aide told Time. The committees were only notified after the fact.

National Security Council officials at the White House wouldn't describe the ad hoc process they established to trade the prisoners  — or measures to limit the threat posed by the Taliban detainees.

But they insisted consensus was reached by top officials of Obama’s national security team.

"These releases were worked extensively through deputies and principals," National Security Counsel Deputy for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes told Time.
"There was not a dissent on moving forward with this plan."

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