- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 5, 2014

Obama administration officials said Thursday that they feared the Islamic militants holding Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl would kill him if word of their deal to exchange him for five Taliban fighters leaked — offering the latest justification in the face of growing political controversy over why President Obama sidestepped Congress to make the trade Saturday.

That explanation didn’t settle matters on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers said they are regularly briefed ahead of time on secret operations and that the law still required notice.

Mr. Obama, traveling in Europe, publicly chided critics in Washington and said he would “make no apologies” for striking the agreement, which has sparked complaints from members of both political parties.

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“I’m never surprised by controversies that are whipped up in Washington, all right? That’s par for the course,” Mr. Obama said. “We had a prisoner of war whose health had deteriorated and we were deeply concerned about. And we saw an opportunity, and we seized it. And I make no apologies for that.”

He said administration officials were explaining the details to Congress but didn’t cede any ground to those who accused him of breaking several laws requiring 30 days’ notice before prisoners are released from the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

He also said the issue should not be used as a “political football.”

News reports about Sgt. Bergdahl’s condition and state of mind have only increased the murky circumstances that led to his capture five years ago and his release Saturday. The Daily Beast reported that Sgt. Bergdahl tried to escape twice from his captors, which the online publication said might contradict the narrative — endorsed by some of the soldiers who served with him — that Sgt. Bergdahl was a deserter.

Fox News, citing secret documents based on an eyewitness account, reported that the sergeant at one point in his captivity “converted to Islam, fraternized openly with his captors and declared himself a ‘mujahed,’ or warrior for Islam.”

Nearly a week after the trade, a number of questions remain about the legality and wisdom of the deal.

Some of those questions surround Sgt. Bergdahl’s health. Administration officials initially said they feared he was so ill that they had to act quickly before he died.


Some of the lawmakers who have seen classified information and video footage said that case hasn’t been made.

“They have simply not made a case that his health had deteriorated to the point where they needed to get him out of there,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican and vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

“I don’t believe any of this,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican. “First, we had to do the prisoner deal because he was in imminent danger of dying. Well, they saw the video in January, and they didn’t act until June. So that holds no water. Now the argument is the reason they couldn’t tell us is because it jeopardized his life. I don’t buy that for a moment because he was a very valuable asset to the Taliban.”

The Idaho-born sergeant has not been seen in public since his release and since he was taken for treatment to a military hospital in Germany. His hometown of Hailey, Idaho, called off a big celebration planned for his eventual homecoming, citing security concerns.

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