- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Senate Republicans hurled fresh criticism Tuesday at the White House for trading five former Taliban commanders from Guantanamo for an American soldier, a day after Sen. Ted Cruz said he will introduce legislation to prevent President Obama from making any more prisoner swaps.

Releasing the inmates from Guantanamo at this time, while U.S. soldiers are still engaged in combat operations in Afghanistan, was a “major error,” Sen. Jeff Sessions told reporters as he exited a closed briefing at the Capitol Tuesday, during which Pentagon officials took questions from senators about the prisoner deal.

“We’re in a war,” said Mr. Sessions of Alabama. “That’s just what I think this White House does not understand. They haven’t understood it from the beginning. We have people now, in combat, their lives at risk this very day, to accomplish what this Congress and this president said they’re supposed to accomplish.”

Republicans have lambasted Mr. Obama for failing to alert lawmakers that a deal had been struck to exchange the five Guantanamo inmates for the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was held captive by the Taliban for nearly five years.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said the administration has “not been clear” about why Congress wasn’t notified of the release of the Guantanamo detainees, as required under several laws.

Senate Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin, Illinois Democrat, offered a fresh explanation for why Mr. Obama failed to give Congress the 30-day notice of transfers from Guantanamo Bay, as required by law.

He citing a new timeline provided by the administration that showed the deal was only finalized a day before the swap.

“They knew a day ahead of time the transfer was going to take place,” Mr. Durbin told reporters at the Capitol. “They knew an hour ahead of time where it was going to take place.”

The explanation didn’t satisfy Republican lawmakers.

“This is a deal that they have been trying to work on for years,” Sen. Kelly A. Ayotte, New Hampshire Republican, said as she exited the closed-door hearing with military brass. “This is a deal that I understand members of Congress from both sides of the aisle … had said that they didn’t think was a good idea. So I don’t understand that as an explanation.”

While some Democrats have leveled similar criticism at the White House, others have offered a measured defense.

Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, emerged from Tuesday’s meeting to say that the top military people strongly supported the recommendation that this deal be made.”

Asked whether it the final decision on the prisoner swap was made by Secretary of State Chuck Hagel, or by President Obama, Mr. Levin responded: “What I’m saying is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the deputy chairman of the Joint Chiefs strongly support this deal and still do.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican and a leading critic of the Obama White House, announced on the Senate floor Monday that he plans to introduce legislation to block the president from entering into any future swaps of Guantanamo inmates.

“Until President Obama can make his case and convince the American public that this swap was in our interest … all swaps from Guantanamo should be off the table,” Mr. Cruz said, according to The Hill.

It was not immediately clear Tuesday whether Republicans would put their full weight behind such legislation.

Sen. McCain told reporters he had not seen the legislation. “I can’t comment on something I haven’t seen,” he said.

House Speaker John A. Boehner said Tuesday that he rejected the White House’s latest explanation for keeping Congress in the dark about the swap for Sgt. Bergdahl, saying that top leaders in Congress were able to be briefed ahead of the Osama bin Laden strike and should have been consulted this time.

Mr. Boehner said he was briefed multiple times ahead of the secret raid that got bin Laden, as were other top members of Congress.

“This idea that they couldn’t trust us to not leak things is just not true,” he said.

Late last week the White House said it decided not to consult with Congress because officials were afraid the pending trade could be leaked, putting Sgt. Bergdahl’s life in danger. Officials speculated the Taliban might have even killed him if details had leaked.

But members of Congress said there are procedures in place to alert a small group of lawmakers — the top party leaders and the top members of the intelligence committees — in order to get approval.

None of them were consulted in the swap that sent five Taliban fighters to Qatar in exchange for Sgt. Bergdahl. When the administration had raised the possibility of a prisoner swap several years ago, those in Congress who were briefed on the matter were unanimous in their opposition, The Washington Times reported last week.

Mr. Boehner said U.S. troops are now in more danger because of the precedent the Obama administration set.

“We’re going to pay for this,” he said.

S.A. Miller contributed to this article.

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