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White House admits oversight in Bergdahl deal: Senate committee chairwoman

English.news.cn   2014-06-04 07:30:55

WASHINGTON, June 3 (Xinhua) -- The White House has said it was an oversight for failing to inform Congress in advance of a deal to release five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in exchange for the only American soldier held captive in Afghanistan, the Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein said on Tuesday.

Feinstein said that she received a phone call from Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken on Monday evening over the exchange deal. "Tony Blinken called last night and said it was an oversight or something to that effect. So I accept that," she told reporters.

Three days after U.S. President Barack Obama announced Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl's return to U.S. custody after nearly five years in captivity, the White House is facing mounting criticism for failing to notify lawmakers in advance before the trade.

White House officials have said in public that they did not have time to inform Congress of the prisoner swap because Bergdahl 's life was in danger and that they did not know how long the Taliban would be willing to wait to finalize the deal.

The U.S. National Defense Authorization Act requires the administration to alert Congress of the pending release of prisoners from the American prison camp in Guantanamo Bay at least 30 days in advance.

Feinstein said, "The notification to us is important and I think that it would have been a much better thing to do because you do try to work together."

She also said leaders of the House and Senate intelligence panels were almost unanimously against a prisoner trade when it came up in 2011.

Moreover, Feinstein said, "I certainly want to know more about whether this man was a deserter," in response to reports that Bergdahl deserted his post in combat before his capture.

Also on Tuesday, House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner said lawmakers were opposed to the exchange when it was first raised two years ago, and accused the White House of keeping Congress in the dark because of that opposition.

At the time, members of Congress questioned whether the trade would create an incentive for terrorist groups to capture more U.S. soldiers. They also worried the United States would not be able to prevent released terrorists from returning to the battleground, Boehner said in a statement.

It risks hostage taking of U.S. personnel abroad in the future, he said, adding that "one of their greatest protections -- U.S. does not negotiate with terrorists -- have been compromised."

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Saturday that "As of today, I informed Congress of the decision to transfer five detainees from Guantanamo Bay to Qatar," with which Washington has coordinately closely to ensure that security measures are in place and that the national security of the United States will not be compromised.

U.S. Defense Department said on Tuesday that it was focusing on the health of Bergdahl, who was 23 when he was captured five years ago, and will later determine the circumstances of his capture.

"Our first priority is assuring Sgt. Bergdahl's health and beginning his reintegration process," the department said in a statement. "All other decisions will be made thereafter."

The swap followed indirect negotiations between the United States and the Taliban, with the government of Qatar serving as the mediator. As part of Bergdahl's release, the United States agreed to turn over five Taliban detainees at Guantanamo Bay to the custody of Qatar.

Of the more than 600 detainees that have been released from Guantanamo Bay, more than 16 percent returned to terrorist activity, showed a report released last year by the Director of National Intelligence. Another 12 percent are suspected of having returned to terrorism, the report revealed.

Editor: Yamei Wang
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