Senators to get briefing on Bergdahl
By Alexander Bolton - 06/04/14 03:38 PM EDT
Obama administration officials will brief senators on Wednesday afternoon to quell a growing uproar over President Obama’s decision to release five Taliban commanders from the Guantánamo Bay prison camp.
Democrats facing tough reelection campaigns want to hear from Obama’s circle of advisers why the prisoner swap in exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl does not set a precedent for negotiating with terrorists.
The United States has long held a firm policy of not negotiating with terrorist groups to remove incentive for kidnappings and hostage takings.
“I want to hear their explanation for how they see this not being precedent setting,” said Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), who is in the midst of a tough reelection battle. “I’m more interested in precedent-setting issues.”
Senators will meet at 5:30 p.m. with Ambassador James Dobbins, the special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work, Deputy Director of National Intelligence Robert Cardillo and Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman James Winnefeld.
Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, will be notably absent from the classified briefing.
Republicans have bristled at her statement over the weekend that Bergdahl served in Afghanistan with “honor and distinction.”
“Who told Susan Rice he served with honor and distinction? Where does she get all this stuff?” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
Members of Bergdahl's platoon in recent interviews have accused him of deserting his post.
The briefing follows a meeting White House chief of staff Denis McDonough held with Senate Democrats Tuesday to address their concerns over the prisoner exchange.
Lawmakers want to know what restrictions have been placed on the five Taliban militants released from U.S. custody. They must spend at least a year in Qatar, which helped broker the deal, but there appears to be little restriction on them returning to Afghanistan after the probationary period.
“It’s very likely, and I’ve talked to a number of people in the intelligence business, that these people are most likely going to go back into the fight,” said Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), a leading Republican voice on national security issues.
Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) said Tuesday he was not certain what restrictions would be placed on the Taliban commanders during their stay in Qatar.
“I don’t think anybody knows what the agreement is with Qatar in terms of these five people,” he said.
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who said he was notified of the prisoner exchange a day before it happened, said he was reassured when briefed about the arrangements.
A White House official said lawmakers would receive further updates and briefings.
“Over the coming days, our engagement with Congress, both at a member-level and staff-level, will continue,” said the official.