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.
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.