Bergdahl release still galls senators
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration only finalized the exchange of the lone prisoner of war in Afghanistan for five Guantanamo detainees a day before the swap, a top Democratic lawmaker said on Tuesday. He said American officials didn't learn the pickup location for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl until an hour ahead of time.
Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate's No. 2-ranked Democrat, presented the timeline as an explanation for why President Obama didn't inform Congress 30 days before the May 31 prisoner trade.
But particularly galling for lawmakers was a detail Republicans said emerged in a closed-door briefing on Monday night with administration officials that 80 to 90 members of the government knew of the swap but not a single member of Congress.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the briefing by the deputy Defense secretary and the nation's No. 2 uniformed military officer did nothing to ease his concerns about the move to send the Taliban leaders to Qatar, where they will remain for a year under travel restrictions.
“I have every reason to believe that if they want to go back to the fight, they will,” Inhofe said.
Sen. John McCain, a former POW, said it was unfortunate “some 90 members of the administration” knew about the deal to free Bergdahl but “not one member of Congress.”
The White House disputed those figures, saying the number who knew about the Bergdahl deal was even smaller.
The Pentagon denied paying a ransom for Bergdahl.
“There was no money exchanged for Bergdahl's release,” Rear Adm. John Kirby told Politico.
Meanwhile, a group of former soldiers accused lawmakers of vilifying Bergdahl, using the case for political reasons.
“Some of the harshest, most brutal attacks have been coming from our own senators, senior senators,” said Ann Wright, a retired Army colonel and former State Department employee who resigned over the Iraq war.
“It really is a very sad statement ... when our congressional people are doing this for their own political careers,” said Wright.
The Pentagon said Bergdahl was improving at the military hospital in Germany where he was being treated. A spokesman acknowledged it was “going to be a long process.”
A senior lawmaker confirmed reports that Bergdahl had been kept in a cage while held prisoner by the Taliban in Afghanistan.