The House Committee on Armed Services on Wednesday will question Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on why the Obama administration failed to obey a new law requiring the White House to notify Congress 30 days before releasing any Guantanamo Bay terrorists.
Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, California Republican and committee chairman, expressed relief over Sgt. Bergdahl’s release but said “we have a responsibility to both the American people and the troops still in harm’s way in Afghanistan to get to the bottom of this deal with the Taliban.”
“I am particularly troubled by the release of five senior Taliban leaders, men with the blood of many on their hands, and the implications for our deployed forces,” Mr. McKeon said. “I am no less concerned that the Obama administration broke a national security law, passed with bipartisan support and signed by the president, in transferring these detainees.”
A classified briefing on the exchange is set for Wednesday afternoon on Capitol Hill for House and Senate members.
Congressional aides said the hearing is not expected to examine Sgt. Bergdahl’s status as a possible deserter. Instead, the committee will focus on the violation of the notification law and the likelihood of the released terrorists conducting fresh attacks.
“The bottom line is we want to find out why the Obama administration felt they were justified in breaking the law,” one Republican aide said, adding that terrorists’ recidivism also is expected to be a major topic.
“That was the point of the law passed five or six months ago,” the aide said. “We agreed to give the president flexibility on Guantanamo if he gave us 30 days’ notice to make sure the Obama administration would not release someone who should not be released. In this case, they released five people who should not have been released.”
U.S. officials said the release of the Taliban leaders was opposed by some officials in the military, the intelligence community and the State Department.
One official said the administration believed it had secured “another ‘kill bin Laden’ moment” that would bring widespread praise, referring to the May 2011 U.S. raid that ended the life of al Qaeda’s leader.
“They thought they were unveiling something they could be proud of,” the official said. “Instead, it has blown up their faces.”
Democrats appear divided on the issue.
Sen. Carl M. Levin, chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, in a statement sought to absolve the administration for failing to notify Congress.
“We received a detailed classified notification from the Secretary of Defense that satisfies the many substantive certification requirements of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014,” the Michigan Democrat said, adding that he intends to question why waiting 30 days would have jeopardized the swap.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said Tuesday that the White House apologized to her for its “oversight” in not providing the notification.