The Defense Department broke the law when it exchanged five Taliban detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for captive Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl this year, the Government Accountability Office said Thursday.
The Pentagon is required to give 30 days’ notice to congressional committees before using appropriated funds to transfer detainees at Guantanamo Bay to another country, the GAO said.
In this case, the office said, the Defense Department illegally “did not provide written notice to the relevant congressional committees until May 31, 2014, the same day as the transfer” of the five to Qatar.
Obama administration officials told lawmakers they didn’t give Congress advance notice of the prisoner exchange because the Taliban had threatened to kill Bergdahl if news of the pending deal leaked, a Senate aide familiar with the discussions told the Los Angeles Times in June.
Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said Thursday that the prisoner trade was lawful and was made after consultation with the Justice Department.
"The administration had a fleeting opportunity to protect the life of a U.S. service member held captive and in danger for almost five years,” he said. “Under these exceptional circumstances, the administration determined that it was necessary and appropriate to forgo 30 days' notice of the transfer” to get Bergdahl out.
Bergdahl, 28, disappeared from his base in eastern Afghanistan in 2009. Some members of his unit have accused him of desertion. The Army is investigating the circumstances surrounding his capture.
This year's prisoner exchange drew criticism from some Republicans in Congress, who argued that it violated U.S. policy against negotiating with terrorists.
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