Whether the trade of five senior Taliban terrorists for U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was politically or militarily wise remains a matter of intense disagreement in some quarters. One thing that is not controversial is that how the trade was done violated federal law, according to the Government Accountability Office, the independent government watchdog agency for Congress.
On Thursday, the GAO wrote in response to queries from Republican senators that in ordering the trade, President Obama violated two laws. First, he violated the funding law for the Department of Defense this year, which forbade funds from being used to release detainees from the prison at Guantanamo Bay without 30 days' prior notification to Congress. In doing so, he also violated the Anti-deficiency Act, which bars all executive branch employees from spending money for purposes that Congress has not approved. As GAO put it, the meaning of the law that was broken is "clear and unambiguous."
|It is not even the first time Obama has violated a law he himself signed.|
The pivotal issue here is not Bergdahl's behavior or character but it does have a great deal to with Obama's. Five terrorists, two of them UN-wanted war criminals, were released without prior congressional consultation because Obama acts increasingly as if he is above the law.
The rule of law is important. Playwright Robert Bolt placed a famous phrase in the mouth of Sir Thomas More, who viewed even the laws that hindered him as a refuge for everyone in England: “This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man's laws, not God's — and if you cut them down... do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?”
But further, each individual law exists for a reason. Congress passed this particular statute because it wanted to be consulted about releases from Guantanamo. Why? Because unilateral decisions on such matters are more likely to be unwise. Congress used its legitimate constitutional power to check the executive. And Obama even went along with this limitation by signing the bill that contained it.
But as he has on numerous occasions — recess appointments, the war in Libya, immigration, education, and health care policy matters — Obama skirted the law in order to make the Bergdahl trade. This is not the first time he has violated the law. It is not even the first time he has violated a law he himself signed.
This is a grave matter. Obama is behaving in a way he should not and that he knows he should not — and voters should keep in mind this fall. The president constantly complains that Congress fails to co-operate with him in passing laws, but this rings hollow when he violates existing laws when he finds it convenient to do so.