The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee disputed National Security Adviser Susan Rice’s assertion that the administration had been working with Congress in the effort to free Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) also promised that hearings are forthcoming in the swap that saw five Taliban commanders freed.
“We passed a law last year, passed out of our committee, 59-2, both Democrats and Republicans supported it. And then it passed overwhelmingly on the floor and through the Senate, and the president signed it. And although he said now he had a disclaimer along with it that he apparently didn’t support the law, he did sign it,” McKeon told MSNBC this morning of the law requiring 30-day congressional notification to release Guantanamo detainees.
“And now, my perception is, and I think in the eyes of many, he broke the law by not informing Congress 30 days before that — you just had Ambassador Rice, she said they’d been working on this for three years. She said Congress has been informed of this along the way. I don’t know who they were talking to. I have not been a part of this, and I’m the chairman of the committee.”
McKeon stressed it’s not a partisan issue, but “just a matter of the law and breaking the law and not informing the Congress according to the law.”
“I’m sorry that this is being portrayed as a Republican issue. I think Democrats also voted for this law. It was important for our national security. It’s important for our responsibility of oversight of the administration and our national security,” he said.
Members of Congress had heard for months that the administration was considering a Taliban swap. The top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee said the White House assured him six months ago that they would come to Congress before initiating any sort of a deal. But Rice and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel have been making the rounds on news shows to argue that there wasn’t time to notify Congress because after five years Bergdahl’s health was suddenly in danger.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) told Fox this morning that the argument there wasn’t time to notify Congress is “absolutely ludicrous.”
“And the thing is some notion that you — you couldn’t do this for sensitivity reasons, you know, the national security committees were briefed the entire time of the Osama bin Laden information and then raid planning and the raid itself,” Rogers said. “So some notion that this was so sensitive that people couldn’t keep a secret is just wrong and it’s illegal. They had a 30-day notice under the law to notify Congress about the moving of prisoners and they have a constitutional and legal statute to keep Congress currently informed.”
“And the reason you do that is you want some other people’s opinion. They were just talking to themselves about what a great idea this was. If they’d had talked to anyone else, in a bipartisan way, by the way, people were saying this is really not a good idea to open up and end a chapter in American history where we don’t negotiate with terrorists.”
McKeon said Congress knew “they’ve been negotiating with the Taliban, you know, to bring a peace after the war. I’ve never heard that this was involving Sergeant Bergdahl.”
“And now, we’re 72 hours after the fact. They still have not told us how they’re going to ensure that these five, top-level Taliban terrorists are not coming back into the fight. We are going to be leaving, according to the president last week, 9,800 troops, and NATO will have about another 5,000, to train the Afghan military, continue their educational process to defending themselves. And they will all be targets of these — of the Taliban,” he added.
And if Obama is trying to liquidate Guantanamo through deals such as this, McKeon noted that also runs afoul of the law.
“We have in law said you cannot close Guantanamo. It’s there for a purpose. We can keep these terrorists there, keep them out of the fight, keep them secure in a safe environment where they’re treated much better, their life expectancy is longer, and our troops there are doing a tremendous job,” the chairman said. “But he wants to close it for political reasons. I don’t begrudge that, that’s his view and his opinion, but it’s against the law.”