President Barack Obama defended not telling Congress beforehand about plans to exchange five Taliban prisoners for U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, saying that time was of the essence in completing the swap.
Obama, saying he would make “no apologies” for the move, told NBC News in an interview that the decision was unanimous among principals in his administration and was backed by the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to excerpts released by the network.
“We had to act fast in a delicate situation that required no publicity,” the president told NBC’s Brian Williams in the interview broadcast last night. “It was a difficult piece of business because of the fact that you’re dealing with an untrustworthy adversary, not a normal state actor. And we saw an opportunity and we took it.”
Since Obama announced Bergdahl’s release in a Rose Garden ceremony on May 31, pressure has mounted for an explanation of why the administration sidestepped a law requiring the president to give 30-days notice to Congress of plans for a Guantanamo prisoner release. Opponents of the swap have raised questions about whether Bergdahl is a patriot or a deserter.
During the interview, Obama said that with the war ending in Afghanistan, it was important to bring back someone who “wore this nation’s uniform”
“We have a rule, a principle, that when somebody wears our country’s uniform and they’re in a war theater and they’re captured, we’re going to do everything we can to bring ’em home,” said Obama, who was interviewed in France where he was taking part in ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of D-Day.
Senators were told at a June 4 classified briefing that the administration had received indications that Bergdahl’s life could be jeopardized if the detainee exchange proceedings were disclosed or derailed, according to a government official who sought anonymity.
Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein said she isn’t convinced that there was a “credible threat” against Bergdahl’s life that motivated the White House to keep its plans secret from Congress.
“I don’t think there was a credible threat,” Feinstein, a California Democrat, said yesterday in an interview for Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend. “I have no information that there was.”
Obama said during the NBC interview that the war’s end also will force the issue of what to do with those held at the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. It now has 149 prisoners taken captive as part of the war on terrorism.
“It’s also important for us to recognize that the transition process of ending a war is going to involve, on occasion, releasing folks who we may not trust but we can’t convict,” he said.
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