White House press secretary Jay Carney defended the Obama administration's decision to swap five top Taliban officials for the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, saying the deal has plenty of precedent in U.S. history and would not harm U.S. national security.
President Obama over the last two days has faced a torrent of criticism for the decision to release Bergdahl, who was freed after five years of captivity in Afghanistan, in exchange for the Taliban officials who have been held for years at the Guantanamo Bay.
Pressed on the decision Monday, Carney said it was “the right thing to do” because the United States does “not leave our men and women behind in armed conflict.”
Carney characterized the swap as a prisoner-of-war exchange at the end of an armed conflict, and said there are plenty of historic precedents of similar trades. The five men on Saturday were transferred to Qatar, where they will be monitored for a year as part of the agreement.
Republicans, however, say the deal breaks the long U.S. tradition of refusing to negotiate with terrorists and will encourage terrorist organizations to take more U.S. hostages.
Key GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill also argue that the deal is illegal because the Obama administration failed to provide Congress 30 days of notice of its plans to transfer the Guantanamo facility's detainees, as the law requires.
They also say the administration has yet to provide them any details about how the Qatari government will ensure that the prisoners won't return to the fight.
Carney countered that the trade was lawful because Obama repeatedly has taken issue with the 30-day requirement in signing statements to the National Defense Authorization Acts.
“The executive branch must have the ability to act swiftly to negotiate detainee transfers,” Carney told reporters Thursday.
Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, argues the deal is illegal and pledges to hold hearings on it. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a top Republican on the Senate Armed Services panel, also called for hearings on the matter.
“[Obama's] responsibility is to administer and uphold the laws that are passed by Congress ... and the law stated that before any detainee is released the administration must notify Congress at least 30 days ahead of time. ... That never happened,” McKeon told Fox News on Monday.
“We still have not been told what [the administration] is going to do to stop the top five Taliban leaders from re-entering the fight.”
Reporters also pressed Carney on whether statements made by Susan Rice, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and now a senior adviser to Obama, over the weekend on the Sunday talk shows are accurate.
Rice on ABC News' “This Week” Sunday said Bergdahl served his country with “honor and distinction.” There are several unresolved questions about how Bergdahl ended up as a captive, but soldiers who served with him contend that he put down his weapons and deserted his service.
Carney referred all questions about Rice's comments about Bergdahl and the circumstances surrounding his capture to the Department of Defense.