Columns

Report: Congress 'Misled' About Taliban Five to 'Settle a Campaign Promise'

As the House Armed Services Committee released a lengthy report on President Obama’s swap of five Taliban detainees for Bowe Bergdahl, one former Guantanamo detainee took a bow this week as a new spokesman for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The House report covers the transfer of Taliban communications chief Mohammad Nabi Omari, deputy minister of intelligence Abdul Haq Wasiq, interior minister Khairulla Said Wali Khairkhwa, deputy minister of defense Mohammad Fazl, and senior military commander Mullah Norullah Noori in May 2014 to Qatar.

Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) noted that since that moment, the committee has been conducting an investigation into the actions of then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and senior Pentagon officials.

“Our report finds that the administration clearly broke the law in not notifying Congress of the transfer,” Thornberry said. “Leading up to the transfer, DOD officials misled Congress as to the status of negotiations. Pentagon officials best positioned to assess the national security risks were left out of the process, which increases the chances of dangerous consequences from the transfer.”

“It is irresponsible to put these terrorists that much closer to the battlefield to settle a campaign promise and unconscionable to mislead Congress in the process.”

The Taliban Five were among Gitmo inmates recommended for “continued detention” in 2010 by Obama’s Executive Order Task Force. When the administration decided to swap them for Bergdahl’s release, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee at the time, Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), received just two and a half hours’ notice instead of the 30 days required by law. The committee didn’t receive the written classified notification and assessments, as required by law, until two days after the Taliban Five left Gitmo.

“The committee was misled about the extent and scope of efforts to arrange the Taliban Five transfer before it took place. The Department of Defense’s failure to communicate complete and accurate information severely harmed its relationship with the Committee, and threatens to upend a longstanding history and tradition of cooperation and comity,” the report states.

It also found “the effort to transfer the Taliban Five was not merely a mechanism to recover a captive U.S. serviceman,” but was part of the administration’s solution of “how to rid the facility of detainees the president’s own designees believed could not be readily sent elsewhere.”

“Transferring five senior Taliban leaders from GTMO offered the prospect of making other transfers appear to be less threatening or contentious. If these five left GTMO, it could ease the case for the departure of others presumed to be less risky… Some of the Taliban Five have engaged in threatening activities since being transferred to Qatar. Regrettably, this outcome is a consequence of a poorly managed process undertaken contrary to a law specifically intended to minimize the risk posed by detainee transfers.”

As if on cue, this week AQAP released a video titled “Guardians of Sharia” featuring Ibrahim Qosi, who cut a plea deal with the tribunal in 2010 and was released to Sudan in July 2012.

Two years later, Qosi had joined AQAP and is now one of the leaders of the al-Qaeda branch in Yemen. In the video, a first-time appearance since his release from Gitmo, he stressed the importance of “individual jihad” against the United States.

Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) have been on a mission against the closure of Guantanamo after it was revealed that administration officials were scoping out locations in their home states for detainee transfers.

“The president’s rush to empty the cells at Guantanamo recklessly endangers our national interests abroad and our safety here at home,” Gardner said. “This news confirms what we’ve known all along: Guantanamo Bay houses some of the world’s deadliest terrorists, and the secure facility at Guantanamo is exactly where they belong. They do not belong back on the battlefield fighting against us, nor do they belong on U.S. soil. It’s time for the president to recognize that simple fact, which is already enshrined in U.S. law.”

Adding yet another twist to the Gitmo controversy, Bergdahl told his story — even while his case is still open — to a popular podcast, claiming he was on a one-man mission after leaving his base to gather intel on the Taliban.

“Doing what I did is me saying that I am like, I don’t know, Jason Bourne…. I had this fantastic idea that I was going to prove to the world that I was the real thing,” Bergdahl said. “You know, that I could be what it is that all those guys out there that go to the movies and watch those movies, they all want to be that, but I wanted to prove that I was that.”

Bergdahl claimed he wanted to talk to a commander in another unit about issues at his base. “What I was seeing from my first unit all the way up into Afghanistan, all’s I was seeing was basically leadership failure, to the point that the lives of the guys standing next to me were literally from what I could see in danger of something seriously going wrong and somebody being killed,” he said.