TIME Military

Sen. Inhofe: Who Will Be Held Accountable for Bergdahl Swap?

Army Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) is senior member of Senate Armed Services Committee.

The president has set a dangerous standard

Our nation has always, and will always, do everything within its power to bring our service men and women home and account for every last one who did not return, no matter the circumstances. Our military men and women know that when they are sent into harm’s way, they will never be left behind.

Nonetheless, the military took appropriate action on Wednesday in charging Bergdahl for desertion based on evidence presented. The nation should feel confident in its Uniform Code of Military Justice system as it reviews Bergdahl’s case and makes a determination regarding his accountability. The Uniform Code of Military Justice is critical to ensuring the rights of our service men and women are protected.

While Bergdahl will ultimately be held accountable for his actions, who will be held accountable for breaking the law regarding the release of prisoners from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba?

In executing the transfer of five detainees from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for Bergdahl, the president violated a law that requires him to notify Congress 30 days before any transfer of terrorists from the detention facility and to explain how the threat posed by the terrorists has been substantially mitigated. His failure to adhere to a law he signed places our nation’s security at great risk for the foreseeable future.

The public quickly labeled the freed detainees as the “Taliban Five” or the “Taliban Dream Team.” They were among the most senior and influential terrorists being held at Guantanamo. Multiple reviews by the U.S. military had even found these individuals too dangerous to release.

Mullah Salem Khan, a senior Taliban commander in Helmand Province, was quick to praise their release, saying it was like “putting 10,000 Taliban fighters into battle on the side of jihad.” Not even a year later, it has been reported that some of the Taliban Five have attempted to re-engage with terror networks and jihadists from their location in Qatar.

In mid-October, Afghanistan announced it had captured Mohammad Nabi Omari, a jihadist leader of the Haqqani terrorist network and the younger brother of Mohammad Nabi Omari who is one of the Taliban Five. The Taliban was quick to claim that the younger brother had actually been captured leaving Qatar after meeting with his brother.

This incident shows the Taliban Five are still well-networked, and jihadists are clearly ready to re-engage with them. The red flag is that the president only agreed for the Taliban Five to be held and monitored in Qatar for one year, a commitment that ends in a few short months.

The United States has 9,800 troops serving in harms way in Afghanistan, and roughly 3,000 have returned to Iraq to aid in the fight against the terrorist organization that calls itself the Islamic State, or ISIL. The Taliban Five exchange communicated to the enemy that our troops can be used as bargaining tools. With about 122 detainees left in Guantanamo, dozens of which Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, has identified as too dangerous to release, the president has set a dangerous standard in how he is willing to violate U.S. laws and negotiate with terrorists, as well as advance his goal of closing a facility that has enhanced our national security.

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TIME foreign affairs

Sen. Inhofe: President Obama Compromised American Security To Burnish His Legacy

Now that the Taliban Dream Team is back on the field of battle, it will be that much easier to close Guantanamo—the administration's true priority.

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.

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