- - Friday, August 22, 2014

President Obama was wrong earlier this year to trade five hardened terrorists from the prison at Guantanamo Bay for a deserter. All but the president’s most dedicated supporters understood then that the trade was a really bad idea. Now, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office has confirmed what many suspect, that the swap violated a “clear and unambiguous” law.

For this White House, the law is little more than an annoyance to be swatted away when inconvenient. Mr. Obama makes and remakes the law as he goes along. Congress has allowed itself to become irrelevant.

But Congress, in a rare fit of resistance, suspected that Mr. Obama might be tempted to release Guantanamo’s remaining prisoners. He had campaigned for president with a promise to shut down Guantanamo. To keep dangerous thugs locked up, Congress passed legislation that the president had to sign requiring the secretary of defense to “notify the appropriate committees of Congress … not later than 30 days before the transfer or release of the individual” from Guantanamo. This notification had to include “an explanation of why the transfer or release is in the national security interests of the United States.”

But there was no advance notice or explanation of the release of Taliban criminals in the trade for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. The sergeant went missing in Afghanistan six years earlier, wandering from his post for unknown reasons and was captured by the Taliban.

Mr. Obama’s poll numbers were spent and sagging, and the White House sensed an opportunity to get headlines for saving a “hero” and bringing him home. Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, ever ready to gush all over himself, called the president’s deal “the culmination of heroic efforts by our military, our government and our president.” The sergeant’s family was invited to the Rose Garden for a ceremony with the president. Parades were arranged.

Soldiers of Sgt. Bergdahl’s unit, ignoring orders to keep quiet about what they knew, nevertheless told how soldiers were put in harm’s way to find a deserter who didn’t want to be found. The bands packed up their drums and horns and went home; the confetti and streamers were put away. The only hero’s welcome was accorded to the Taliban terrorists when they got home in the Middle East. Noorullah Noori, one of the Guantanamo Five, pledged to return to the battlefield in Afghanistan as soon as he could to kill Americans.

The Government Accountability Office determined that the Department of Defense further violated the U.S. Anti-deficiency Act by spending $988,400 on the unauthorized transfer. It’s not clear what, if anything, will be done to hold the administration to account.

On 13 occasions, a usually divided Supreme Court has held unanimously that the Obama administration violated the law and the Constitution. Mr. Obama has gone from a candidate pledging to restore the constitutional balance of power between the White House and the Congress to a president who boasts of making law with his “pen and phone.” The Bergdahl trade is the latest example of a president gone rogue.