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Hagel says time was running out to save Bergdahl


WASHINGTON (AP) -- Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told lawmakers Wednesday that last month's prisoner swap with the Taliban may have been the "last, best" chance to secure the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only U.S. soldier held captive in Afghanistan. He said mediators indicated time was slipping away to get Bergdahl out safely.

Hagel, the first Obama administration official to testify publicly about the controversial deal, told the House Armed Services Committee that Qatari officials warned in the days before the exchange that "time was not on our side" and a leak would sabotage the deal. The transfer of five detainees at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Qatar was legal and advanced national interests, he added.

Republicans and some Democrats have sharply criticized the administration for not informing Congress in advance, with some accusing the president of breaking a law requiring 30-day notification of any Guantanamo prisoner release. Other questions center on whether Bergdahl deserted and whether the U.S. gave up too much for his freedom. Administration officials have told Congress that four of the five Taliban officials will likely rejoin the fight.

Hagel Defends Bergdahl Swap, Says Quick Action Was Needed

"We could have done a better job of keeping you informed," Hagel told the panel. But he called the operation an "extraordinary situation" that combined time-sensitive concerns over Bergdahl's health and safety, last-minute arrangements over where to pick up the soldier and persistent fears the Taliban may have been negotiating in bad faith.

"We grew increasingly concerned that any delay, or any leaks, could derail the deal and further endanger Sgt. Bergdahl," Hagel said. "We were told by the Qataris that a leak would end the negotiations for Bergdahl's release. We also knew that he would be extremely vulnerable during any movement, and our military personnel conducting the handoff would be exposed to a possible ambush or other deadly scenarios in very dangerous territory."

But a series of classified briefings in the 11 days since the operation has failed to answer a growing list of questions on Capitol Hill.

Opening Wednesday's hearing, Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., the committee's chairman, described the agreement with the Taliban as the "deeply troubling" result of "unprecedented negotiations with terrorists."

McKeon, who has launched a committee investigation, said the deal could fuel further kidnappings of American personnel. And he described White House explanations thus far about the potential national security implications as "misleading and oftentimes blatantly false."

Hagel called the former Taliban government officials "enemy belligerents" and said they hadn't been implicated in any attacks against the United States. He said Qatar, which has promised to keep the former Guantanamo detainees inside the country for a year, committed to sufficient security measures that led him to decide the risks weren't too great.

At the same time, he said, "if any of these detainees ever try to rejoin the fight, they would be doing so at their own peril."

Hagel said Washington only engaged in "indirect negotiations." He said a logistical agreement was released May 27, four days before the exchange, and only then did President Barack Obama make a final decision to move forward. Officials learned the general area for the handoff of Bergdahl a day in advance and received the precise location an hour ahead of time, he said.

Bergdahl, an Idaho native, had been held captive since 2009. The Taliban officials had been at Guantanamo for more than a decade.

Beyond McKeon's investigation, the House Appropriations Committee also illustrated its displeasure this week. In a bipartisan 33-13 vote, it added a provision to a $570 billion defense spending bill that barred money for the future transfer of Guantanamo detainee. It also withholds other funds from the Defense Department until Hagel assures lawmakers that notification rules will be respected.

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YourFtr June 11 2014 at 12:46 PM

the most dangerous thing in this country. is NOT our enemies overseas so much as the Liberal Socialist Communist Islamic ideologues in the Democratic party who insanely
believe only they are right; and everybody else is wrong
( the hallmark of a 'crazy' person ).

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29 replies
jt2 June 11 2014 at 12:35 PM

Hagel "tries" to explain is the operative phrase here. There have been so many lies told by so many different branches that he is in a minefield. But, since he works for Obama no matter what the truth is, we will never hear it and the MSM won't dig for it. Obama and Rice and the rest of the liars will get a pass.

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12 replies
evanali June 11 2014 at 12:43 PM

Maybe they should just have the Kardashians represent the government at press conferences?????

That way, all the morons that believe the crap Omama spews out every day can get their 'reality show' fix....while thinking they're being politically active!

I mean- let's call a spade a spade, shall we?

God Bless America! Don't give up- this administration REALLY IS that stupid and devious!

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13 replies
monza866 June 11 2014 at 12:41 PM

So you release 5 terrorists to make it more dangerous for Americans and ignore the fact that 6 of our troops died looking for this sad example of a "hero" , nothing more than a brain dead deserter.

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26 replies
tortugatommie June 11 2014 at 12:33 PM

Lies, lies and still more lies.

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5 replies
aainsser June 11 2014 at 12:37 PM

MORE AND MORE propaganda ---When will this administration start telling the truth?

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18 replies
kimcrdr June 11 2014 at 12:46 PM

Both Obama and Hagel have done nothing but lie to the public and yesterday both were squabbling back and forth trying to put the blame on each other it was ridiculous, so to sum this article up, now O and Hagel took orders from the Qataris not giving a damn about what the American people would think!!

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7 replies
tnnsbill June 11 2014 at 2:26 PM

Another idiot of the Obama Mafia sits in front of Congressional Committee and LIES thru his teeth........Just as the rest of Obama's staff does on a daily basis.
I say let's trade Hagel, Clinton, Kerry, Rice, Obama, Biden, and a few other Democrats for Snowden. Obviously, we get the best part of the deal because we get rid of these jerks. How can they sleep at nite knowing all the Bullshit that they are presenting and expecting hard working Americans to believe them. OMG

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1 reply
JohnBoydStrother tnnsbill June 12 2014 at 9:42 AM

you do know that there are pills that can be prescribe to do this and I'lll bet they all take them.

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sugarcreekchile June 11 2014 at 3:26 PM

The only thing that would have jeopardized Bergdahl's release was Congress knowing that Obama was going to give the Taliban 5 of their own for a soldier who was derelict in his duty when he abandoned his post and was subsequently captured. No matter how the Obama administration wants to spin it, Obama negotiated with terrorists and made a lop-sided deal in their favor which will jeopardize the safety of all American soldiers serving in areas where terrorists operate.

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terbob3 June 11 2014 at 2:03 PM

Lies, Lies and more Lies from the worst administration.

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