Opinion

Why did Obama administration hurry to trade for Bowe Bergdahl?

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Afghanistan,Taliban,Bowe Bergdahl,Becket Adams

After mulling over the issue for several years, the Obama administration decided last month to act without Congress and released five Taliban leaders in exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

The official reason for the White House's urgency on the issue: Bergdahl's "nutritional needs" had reportedly become a matter of life and death, Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said this week.

“Sergeant Bergdahl is in stable condition and is receiving treatment for conditions that require hospitalization,” Warren said Monday. “Part of that treatment process includes attention to dietary and nutritional needs after almost five years in captivity.”

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also cited Bergdahl's failing health as the reason for the White House's decision to move forward without congressional approval.

"We couldn't afford any leaks anywhere," he said Sunday, adding later that the deal was "essentially an operation to save the life of Sgt. Bergdahl."

Bergdahl was turned over to the U.S. military on May 31 after more than five years in Taliban captivity.

He was immediately sent to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany for medical attention, Warren said. When Bergdahl's initial evaluation is complete in Germany, he will then be transferred to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, for further medical assistance.

A Pentagon spokesperson did not immediately respond when asked by the Washington Examiner which of Bergdahl's "nutritional needs" made it necessary for the White House to ignore Congress and release five top-ranking Taliban officials in exchange for him.

At a June 2013 press briefing, White House spokesman Jay Carney promised that Congress would get the required 30-day notice before any trades were made.

"As we have long said ... we would not make any decisions about transfer of any detainees without consulting with Congress and without doing so in accordance with U.S. law," Carney said at the time.

But on Monday, he insisted the trade was lawful because Obama repeatedly has taken issue with the 30-day requirement.

Republicans in Congress blasted the administration for making the deal in secret to release what one called the "Taliban Dream Team."

“The five terrorists released were the hardest of the hard-core,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Monday in a letter addressed to Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “They held positions of great importance within the hard-core anti-American Taliban, including the chief of staff of the Taliban army and the Taliban deputy minister of intelligence.”

The question of why a deal that's been on the table since at least 2011 suddenly had to be made is just one of many surrounding Bergdahl and the circumstances of his captivity.

U.S. intelligence officials have extensively investigated whether Bergdahl deserted or even openly collaborated with the Taliban and have a "major classified file" on the subject, Fox News reported Monday, citing an anonymous Defense Department source.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misspelled Sen. Lindsey Graham's name. The Washington Examiner regrets the error.

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