Ryan, McCain, GOP Vow Investigations on Bergdahl Prisoner Swap

Sunday, 08 Jun 2014 07:36 AM

By Todd Beamon

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The controversy surrounding the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is expected to heat up this week, when top White House officials brief members of the House of Representatives on the deal that freed five senior Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay.

"We’re going to do an investigation about this troop transfer with the Taliban," 2012 GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan told Virginia Republicans on Friday, Politico reported.

Ryan, who represents Wisconsin, joins a growing number of outraged Capitol Hill members from both parties who have called for an inquiry on the swap and the Obama administration's failure to give them required 30-days' notice on releasing the Taliban detainees.

The prisoners swapped for Bergdahl last Saturday included Afghanistan’s deputy defense minister under Taliban rule and others who played major roles in shielding those behind the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"At Guantanamo Bay, there was periodic review of their cases, and they always concluded — those who reviewed their cases — that they posed a great risk to the security of the United States of America," Arizona Sen. John McCain told Newsmax in an interview last week. "That's why they were kept in confinement."

Further, Bergdahl's comrades have accused the 28-year-old sergeant of voluntarily leaving his post without his weapon in 2009 — and have charged that as many as six service members had died while looking for him.

"The allegations that have been reported are very disturbing," McCain told Newsmax. "I'm sure there will be an investigation."

Other concerns have risen that Bergdahl's father, Robert, who appeared with President Barack Obama in the White House Rose Garden last week when his son's exchange was announced, has been sympathetic to the Taliban captors.

The classified House briefing is scheduled for Monday evening, Politico reported.

Those expected to participate include Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken and Ambassador James Dobbins, the special representative for Afghanistan. Others include Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work; Navy Adm. James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Robert Cardillo, deputy director for intelligence.

The administration spent last week working to quell the mushrooming controversy, explaining that Bowe Bergdahl's life was in serious jeopardy and apologizing to key Congress members for not giving a heads-up about the exchange.

Doing so, the White House said, would have caused the Taliban to kill him.

The National Defense Authorization Act requires the administration to give Congress 30 days' notice of any pending release of prisoners from Guantanamo.

Blinken apologized to Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein late Monday, saying that not informing the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee was an "oversight."

The panel's top Republican, Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, received a telephone call Tuesday afternoon from Homeland Security Adviser Lisa Monaco.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat, was told about the exchange in advance, according to news reports.

When informed of this, McCain told Newsmax: "Perhaps they view talking to Harry Reid as consulting with Congress, which seems rather bizarre to me."

But herein lies the risk Republicans face in holding the administration accountable in the Bergdahl scandal, said pollster Matt Towery.

"As long as you have someone like Harry Reid and people who will listen to him say 'What's the difference? Not a big deal' — then we'll hear that Republicans are making it political. We'll continue to hear that," he told Newsmax in an interview on Saturday.

"And as long as we continue to hear that it is political, I'm not sure this is going to go any further than any of these other issues have gone — all of which have been substantial, significant, and deserve investigations that have not been answered."

The debacles include the 2012 Benghazi attacks that killed four Americans, the targeting of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service, the deaths of retired service members amid long wait times because of falsified lists at the Veteran's Administration Health Care Center in Phoenix, and the widespread surveillance of Americans by the National Security Agency.

Obama, however, remains defiant, declaring on Thursday that he "absolutely makes no apologies" for Bergdahl's release in exchange for the Taliban detainees.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham still isn't buying it, however.

"The deal is dangerous for America," the South Carolina Republican told former Gov. Mike Huckabee on Saturday on his Fox News program. "This is an incredibly bad deal."

The Taliban prisoners released were Mohammad Fazl, Mullah Norullah Noori, Mohammad Nabi Omari, Khair Ulla Said Wali Khairkhwa, and Abdul Haq Wasiq. Fazl is the former deputy defense minister for the Taliban, Wasiq is a former deputy intelligence minister, and Norulla Noori and Khairkhwa were regional governors.

Obama, Graham told Huckabee, "didn't realize that most Americans are really upset that we let five hardened killers committed to our destruction, who killed Americans — war criminals — back onto the battlefield."

Under the deal, the Taliban detainees are not to leave Qatar for a year. That government brokered the deal in secret talks with American officials.

"Within a year, they'll be back in Afghanistan — and God help the people of Afghanistan," said Graham, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee with McCain. "The president really hurt our own national security. This was a dumb and dangerous decision."

Still, on Saturday, the the former chief military prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay called the exchange a "good deal."

Retired Air Force Col. Morris Davis said there was never enough solid proof to prosecute the five individuals for terrorism activities or war crimes in the 12 years since their capture.

"We prosecuted Osama bin Laden's driver, and we couldn't even bring charges against these guys," Davis told MSNBC's Alex Witt Saturday morning.

In fact, Davis said that he did not even initially recognize the prisoners' names.

"My role as chief prosecutor was to review the information we had on the detainees to determine which ones we could potentially bring war crimes charges against," said Davis.

"When I saw the names of the five individuals, when they were reported last weekend, my first reaction was, 'Who are they?'" he said. "I never saw the names before, which means there was not enough information to even make it on our list of potential prosecution.

Davis went on to deny claims about how the five being released are the "hardest of the hard core."

"We were told everyone at Guantanamo Bay was the worst of the worst," said Davis. "But of the 779 men we took there, more than 80 percent have gone home; more than 500 of those during the [George W.] Bush administration."

But Republicans continue to slam the exchange. Florida Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, added it to the ever expanding list of scandals plaguing the administration.

"I would suspect that the White House thought that by bringing Sgt. Bergdahl home they would be applauded," Miller told Newsmax this week. "Obviously, that's not what's occurring. It is bipartisan outrage."

For Democrats, the thought of yet another White House scandal as the November elections near fuels speculation that the Republicans could re-take the Senate this fall.

Towery cited the "totality" of the controversies, saying that they could put North Carolina, Arkansas, and Louisiana in GOP hands. "Those are states that are going to be critical."

Vulnerable Democrats seeking re-election in those traditionally "red" states are Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, Mark Pryor in Arkansas, and North Carolina's Kay Hagan.

They have increasingly distanced themselves from President Obama during their campaigns amid GOP attacks on their support of Obamacare.

"If this is another legitimate issue, and it gets the play that it deserves, then — yes — it could have an effect," Towery said.

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