U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaks at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee at the Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., capital of the United States, June 11, 2014. Hagel on Wednesday defended the release of five Taliban detainees in exchange for the only American soldier held captive in Afghanistan. (Xinhua/Bao Dandan)
WASHINGTON, June 11 (Xinhua) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Wednesday defended the release of five Taliban detainees in exchange for the only American soldier held captive in Afghanistan.
The recovery of Bowe Bergdahl from the Taliban was fully consistent with U.S. law, U.S. interests and the U.S. military's core values, Hagel said at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, following disputes from many Congress members saying that Obama and his administration broke the law by failing to first consult with congress.
The secretary briefed the committee on how the Army sergeant came to be freed and assured the committee that he would not sign off on any decision that wasn't in the best interests of the United States.
"The prisoner exchange was done legally, with substantial mitigation of risk and in the national interest of our country," Hagel said.
Specifically, the process complied with the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014 by determining that the risk the detainees posed to the United States, American citizens and U.S. interests was substantially mitigated and that the transfer was in the national security interests of the United States, Hagel said, and the recovery fulfilled the U.S. commitment to recover all military personnel held captive.
Bergdahl was not a hostage, but a detained combatant being held by an enemy force, he noted. That being the case, it "was fully consistent with our long-standing policy not to offer concessions to hostage takers," the secretary said. "The Taliban is our enemy, and we are engaged in an armed conflict with them."
Since his disappearance in 2009, Bergdahl was officially listed as missing-captured. "No charges were ever brought against him, and there are no charges pending now," Hagel said, noting that all aspects of government worked to recover the sergeant.
In answering questions about why members of Congress were not told in advance about the swap, Hagel noted that information about Bergdahl's poor and declining health made acting on the exchange urgent.
With recovery imminent, U.S. officials were concerned that any delay, or any leaks, could derail the deal and further endanger Bergdahl, he told the panel.
"We were told by the Qataris that a leak would end the negotiations for Bergdahl's release," Hagel said, adding that this was why the military moved "quickly, efficiently, and quietly", and this exchange was last and best opportunity to free him.
"The secretary of state, the attorney general, the secretary of homeland security, the director of national intelligence, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff all supported this transfer, " the secretary continued.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in a CNN interview aired on Sunday, also defended the Bergdahl-for-Taliban exchange, saying " It would have been offensive and incomprehensible to consciously leave an American behind.
Bergdahl, who had been in Afghanistan in Taliban hands for almost five years, was released on May 31 near the Afghanistan- Pakistan border in an exchange for the five Taliban detainees held at the American prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Now, Bergdahl continues to recover and work through the reintegration process at Landstuhl Regional Hospital in Germany, according to Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby.
The sergeant's recovery remains the top priority, and it is going to take time, the spokesman said, adding that "nobody is going to push it any further or any faster than Bergdahl and his caregivers are willing to take it."
Top U.S. diplomat defends Bergdahl-for-Taliban swap
WASHINGTON, June 8 (Xinhua) -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in an interview aired on Sunday, defended the release of five Taliban detainees in exchange for the only American soldier held captive in Afghanistan.
"It would have been offensive and incomprehensible to consciously leave an American behind, no matter what," Kerry told CNN's State of the Union program in his first public comment on the trade. Full story
News Analysis: U.S. President in hot water over Taliban POW exchange
WASHINGTON, June 5 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Barack Obama is getting heat from all sides for exchanging five terrorists for an American soldier over the weekend, spurring outrage from Republicans and some members of his own party alike.
In a move that has stirred controversy on both sides of the political isle, Obama traded five terrorists detained in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who had been in Afghanistan in Taliban hands for five years. Full story