Inside the Ring: Hagel to face House grilling on legality of Bergdahl-Taliban trade

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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.

The hearing is expected to be contentious in examining last weekend’s swap of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban leaders held at the prison.


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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.”


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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.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said he was notified in advance of the swap on Friday.

But House Speaker John Boehner, Ohio Republican, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said they were not informed in advance of the exchange.

Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Armed Services and a usually vocal supporter of the administration, has been silent on the release.

A second Republican aide said the swap was more about the president’s effort to close Guantanamo than winning Sgt. Bergdahl’s release.

“If they wanted to get [Sgt. Bergdahl] out, they could have sent in Seal Team Six and killed a bunch of his [captors],” the aide said. “Instead they let five bad guys go.”

CYBER ‘PEOPLE’S WAR’ ON U.S.

Using terms from the disastrous 1970s Cultural Revolution, a Chinese military newspaper recently called for waging a cyber “people’s war” against the United States to counter what Beijing calls U.S. “network hegemony.”

The People’s Liberation Army newspaper for the Guangzhou Military Region, in southern China, quoted extensively from Communist founder Mao Zedong in urging cyber warfare against the U.S.

The PLA paper quoted Mao on people’s war as saying, “war can be waged only by mobilizing the masses and relying on them.”

“People’s war in the cyber network era means everybody going online to send messages, and then if all the several hundred million netizens each spit on the enemy, the flood of saliva will overwhelm them,” the report said.

It said massive cyberattacks might work since one professional cyber warrior could render 10,000 people’s emails.

The report suggests that China, under leader Xi Jinping, is undergoing a neo-communist revival, especially in the military.

“Mao Zedong Thought, especially the thinking on people’s war, still is the powerful ideological weapon guiding us in our struggle to fight the strong power’s cyber network hegemony, to safeguard the development of our nation’s interests in cyber space, and to win the cyber network war in the future,” the newspaper said March 5.

The newspaper described Mao’s rule as the “glorious years of the past and the splendid great contributions of the great man” and praised ideology as the “light of truth radiating from the brilliant Mao Zedong Thought.”

1997’s “The Black Book of Communism” by European historians estimated that Mao’s brand of communism in China resulted in the deaths of 65 million people.

Under the headline “Carry Forward the Thinking on People’s War, Win Cyber Network War in the Future,” the PLA newspaper accused the U.S. of “out-and-out cyber network hegemonism.” U.S. Internet dominance is carried out through eight U.S. technology companies — Cisco, IBM, Google, Qualcomm, Intel, Apple, Oracle, and Microsoft — and by controlling 10 of the 13 root name servers of the Internet, it stated.

Quoting Mao’s statement that “all reactionaries are paper tigers,” the PLA said popular support is decisive in defeating U.S. cyber hegemonism.

“The fact that the U.S. cyber network hegemony is against the will of the people constitutes the greatest check and drag on the United States’ attempt in this regard,” the report said.

It also quoted Mao’s statement that the richest source of power to wage war stems from “the masses.” And it noted that all wars fought by the “party and our army” involved troops with inferior force against superior enemies.

“And the magic weapon we used to subdue our enemy was the thinking on people’s war,” the report said. “In order to resist the U.S. cyber network hegemony, one has to use superb tactics to fight with the Americans, who possess superior equipment.”

The report concludes: “To wage people’s war in the cyber network era, we cannot expect any readily available prophetic answer from any great man, nor can we totally copy past experience and practices in a simplified manner. How to inherit and carry forward the thinking on people’s war and how to engulf our enemy in a ‘boundless ocean of people’s war’ are major mission-related topics that are worth our great attention and study.”

The report was written by Yuan Yi, Liu Rongbao, and Xu Wenhua, who work in two PLA institutes, the Combat Operations Theory and Doctrine Research Department at the Academy of Military Science and the National Defense Mobilization Department at the Shijiazhuang Army Command Academy.

Contact Bill Gertz at @BillGertz.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

About the Author
Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon (www.freebeacon.com). He has been with The Times since 1985.

He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.

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