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Rep. Thornberry Threatens to Cut Defense Budget 25 in Bergdahl Rift

By    |   Friday, 24 April 2015 10:23 PM

Texas Rep. Mac Thornberry is threatening to propose that the Defense Department's budget be cut by $500 million — 25 percent — in the next fiscal year because the agency has not provided detailed information on the controversial swap last year of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban prisoners.

Thornberry, the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), plans to introduce legislation next week to cut the department's budget by 25 percent in fiscal 2016, unless Pentagon officials provide unredacted emails on the Bergdahl swap and others regarding the exchange, The Washington Post reports.

"It's a strange posture for this department, because usually the committee has a better relationship with DoD," a congressional source told Fox News on Friday. "It looks like the guidance they are receiving is coming from outside the building."

The plan by Thornberry, who was first elected to the House in 1994, escalates the rift between Republicans and the Pentagon over the Bergdahl swap, which President Barack Obama lauded in a Rose Garden ceremony flanked by the soldier's parents.

Bergdahl, 28, was charged in March with desertion with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty, and misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit or place.

The desertion charge carries a maximum prison term of five years, while the misbehavior count has a maximum penalty of life in prison. Other potential charges include a dishonorable discharge, reduction in rank to private, and forfeiture of all pay.

Bergdahl works in an administrative position at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas — as Army rules dictate while he is awaiting an Article 32 investigation hearing by the Army at the base. The inquiry is similar to a civil grand jury proceeding and could eventually lead to a court-martial.

While Republicans initially hailed the swap, they have since slammed the Obama administration for not giving Congress the required 30 days' notice of the release of the Taliban detainees from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

They also have questioned the circumstances surrounding Bergdahl's capture, which happened after he left his post in Afghanistan in 2009.

He walked away from Combat Outpost Mest-Lalak in Paktika Province in eastern Afghanistan after guard duty on June 30, 2009 — leaving behind his gun, ammunition, and body armor.

Six members of Bergdahl's platoon were killed during searches in the days and weeks after he disappeared.

The prisoners — known as the "Taliban 5" — were transferred to Qatar, where they were required to remain for a year. Their travel bans expire on June 1.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said last month that he had evidence that at least one former detainee has touched base with a group affiliated with the Afghan Taliban.

Within days after the swap, the House committee began its investigation — ordering then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to turn over all emails and documents on the transfer.

Panel members were especially concerned about discussions within the Pentagon about why Congress was not notified, The Washington Post reports.

The White House has maintained that secrecy was critical to protecting Bergdahl's safety — despite a determination by the Government Accountability Office that federal guidelines had been violated.

In response to the House committee's demand, the Pentagon has provided more than 3,000 pages of classified and public information — but the pages are heavily redacted, particularly regarding information that legislators think is central to their investigation, both Fox and the Post report.

The obscured data concerns legal discussions; negotiations with Qatar, which served as an intermediary in the deal; and preparations for briefing Congress, according to the reports.

House committee staffers also told Fox News that critical communications between agencies on the Bergdahl swap have not been produced.

"We have no idea what percent of the emails we have," another source told Fox. "It's taken a year."

One email cited in both the Fox and Post reports concerned a briefing by a Pentagon public affairs officer to an agency lawyer on what would be said to reporters about the five Taliban transfers from Guantanamo Bay. The relevant sections were blacked out.

One of the few unredacted sections reads: "We should not use this line, which is just a pointless stick in Congress' eye."

Army Lt. Col. Joe Sowers, however, told both news organizations that the agency had provided more than 3,600 pages of relevant communications to the committee last July.

"Redactions to the documents have been minimal, and the department has committed to working with the HASC to accommodate their requests for information," Sowers said.

Committee staff, the Army spokesman said, have conducted 10 transcribed interviews with Pentagon personnel.

"The committee was also provided a substantive paper articulating the administration's legal analysis on the transfer of the five detainees," Sowers said.

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Texas Rep. Mac Thornberry is threatening to propose that the Defense Department's budget be cut by $500 million — 25 percent — in the next fiscal year because the agency has not provided detailed information on the controversial swap last year of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
Bowe Bergdahl, Mac Thornberry, Defense, Department, budget cut, 25 percent, Congress, information, swap, Taliban
Friday, 24 April 2015 10:23 PM
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