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The detainees are believed to be the most senior Afghans still held at the prison: Abdul Haq Wasiq, Mullah Norullah Nori, Khairullah Khairkhwa, Mohammed Nabi and Mohammad Fazl. Mr. Obama’s efforts to close the detainee site have been frustrated by opposition from both parties in Congress.

‘Very dangerous guys’

Republican critics Sunday criticized both the abrupt manner in which the Taliban prisoners were traded — with almost no advance warning to lawmakers — and the potential precedent the deal could set in dealing with other terrorist enemies.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon said that the released detainees are “five very dangerous guys that should not leave Guantanamo [and] should not have the opportunity to get back into this fight.”

“And now we have set a precedent — the president has set a precedent,” the California Republican said Sunday on CNN. “You know, he has violated the law and flouted the Constitution so many times. We have real concerns about this. They’re not following the law. They know they’re not following the law.”

Added Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, speaking on ABC News, “What does this tell terrorists — that if you capture a U.S. soldier you can trade that soldier for five terrorists?”

Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the ranking Republican on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said the administration assured him just six months ago they would not consider the release of the leaders without consulting Congress.

“The security assurances the United States has been given regarding these terrorists is feeble at best, and I fear it is only a matter of time before they resume their terrorist activities,” he said. “These men are not soldiers; they are dangerous terrorists, and President Obama should be treating them as such.”

But Idaho’s all-Republican congressional delegation hailed the move. Rep. Raul R. Labrador told the Boise Weekly he was “thrilled” by the news, while Sen. Mike Crapo said that “our prayers have been answered.”

Mr. Hagel acknowledged that the law now mandates that the defense secretary give at least 30 days’ notice for such prison transfers but that officials moved under the timeline they did in order to save Sgt. Bergdahl’s life.

“We had information that his health could be deteriorating rapidly,” he said. “There was a question about his safety. We found an opportunity. We took that opportunity. I’ll stand by that decision. I signed off on the decision. The president made the ultimate decision. We did spend time looking at this.”

Ms. Rice said the sergeant’s situation was “acute” and said the administration would have been criticized if it had failed to act when a deal materialized.

“We did not have 30 days to wait,” she said. “And had we waited and lost him, I don’t think anybody would have forgiven the United States government.”

Mr. Hagel added that he will not agree to the release of any more detainees from Guantanamo unless the country can be assured “that we can sufficiently mitigate any risk to America’s security.”

Sgt. Bergdahl was captured under murky circumstances in eastern Afghanistan on June 30, 2009, about two months after arriving in the country, but neither Mr. Hagel nor Ms. Rice specifically addressed how that happened.

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