Our nation has long honored a commitment to the men and women of our military that when they are sent into harm’s way, they will never be left behind. For this reason, Americans should find solace in the fact that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is coming home after five years in captivity. However, these feelings should be tempered by the troubling questions that remain unanswered about the President’s secret deal with the Taliban and using this as an opportunity to pursue his legacy of closing Guantanamo Bay.
The men at the center of this trade were no ordinary terrorists captured on the battlefield. Instead, by the Taliban’s own statements, they were five of the most senior leaders the Taliban had to offer. Many are labeling them the “Taliban Dream Team,” directly responsible for countless atrocities during the Taliban’s brutal rule. They undoubtedly have the blood of American soldiers and Afghans on their hands.
Multiple reviews by the U.S.military of these detainees while at Guantanamo found that they were too dangerous to release. Today, according to press reports, these ruthless terrorists appear to be living quite well in Qatar and will eventually be able to return to Afghanistan. The Obama Administration has not provided details to the American people or Congress on what security guarantees are in place to stop these men from returning to the battlefield or to stop them from conducting attacks against the thousands of American servicemembers and diplomats who are currently serving in the region.
This reckless decision by the President has been hailed as a great victory—not by the American people or our allies, but by the same terrorists who are trying to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan today. Mullah Omar, the Taliban’s leader, has called the release of the detainees a “great victory.” Mullah Salem Khan, a senior Taliban commander in Helmand Province, the scene of some of the toughest fighting our troops have encountered to date, characterized the release as “like putting 10,000 Taliban fighters into battle on the side of jihad. Now, the Taliban have the right lion to lead them in the final moment before victory in Afghanistan.”
It’s no coincidence that the President’s secret deal comes on the heels of his decision to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016. One would expect the transfer of high-value prisoners does not happen until peace is established, but the premature offer for five senior Taliban members significantly undermines our ability to effectively and responsibly transition our engagement in the region.
What we’ve witnessed should not come as a great surprise. Releasing dangerous terrorists from Guantanamo is all part of the President’s focus as he looks to solidify his legacy in these last two years of office. Despite the reality that nearly one-third of detainees released from Guantanamo are suspected or confirmed to have re-joined the fight, the President remains determined to close the detention center and transfer the remaining detainees overseas and some even to U.S. soil. Now that the Taliban Dream Team is gone, it will make it that much easier to achieve his goal.
To prevent decisions that pose a threat to our national security like the one President Obama made last week, Congress passed a law last year with strong bipartisan support requiring the President to notify Congress prior to transferring Guantanamo detainees overseas. The law is clear, and President Obama clearly failed to follow it. Section 1035(d) of the Fiscal Year 2014 Defense Authorization Act states Congress will be notified 30 days before a transfer. Elements required in the notification include: “(1) a detailed statement of the basis for the transfer or release; (2) an explanation of why the transfer or release is in the national security interests of the United States”; and “(3) a description of any actions taken to mitigate the risks of reengagement by the individual to be transferred or released.”
Yet, once again, the President believed himself to be above the law.
As details continue to emerge on the prisoner exchange, I urge the nation to stay focused on the matter really at hand. This President will go any length to solidify his legacy. The nation has seen this with the way he failed to tell the American public the whole truth about the devastating impacts of his health care law; his pursuit to enact cap-and-trade through regulation after being defeated through legislation; and now he is willing to compromise our national security and our military members in harms way to get one step closer to closing Guantanamo.
As Congress begins hearings on this topic, I will be vigilant in pursuing real answers about the President’s decision to ignore the law and put Americans and our military members at greater risk.
Senator Jim Inhofe is the Ranking Member of Senate Armed Services Committee.