Republicans question U.S. prisoner swap with Taliban

Mon Jun 2, 2014 12:57am EDT
By Warren Strobel

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Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and his desertion case
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Republicans question U.S. prisoner swap with Taliban
U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl leaves the courthouse after the first day of sentencing proceedings in his court martial was adjourned at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, U.S., October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake
Eugene Fidell (R), U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl's civilian defense attorney, arrives with Bergdahl's judge advocate Lt. Col. Franklin Rosenblatt (L) at the courthouse for the start of sentencing proceedings in his court martial at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, U.S., October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake
U.S. Army Private Bowe Bergdahl watches as one of his captors displays his identity tag to the camera at an unknown location in Afghanistan, July 19, 2009. The U.S. military denounced on Sunday the release of the video showing a soldier captured in Afghanistan, describing the images as Taliban propaganda that violated international law. REUTERS/via Reuters TV (AFGHANISTAN MILITARY CONFLICT)
FT. BRAGG, NC - JULY 7: U.S. Army Sgt. Robert Bowdrie 'Bowe' Bergdahl (right), 30 of Hailey, Idaho, leaves the Ft. Bragg military courthouse during a recess in a pretrial military hearing on July 7, 2016 in Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. Bergdahl faces charges of desertion and endangering troops stemming from his decision to leave his outpost in 2009, which landed him five years in Taliban captivity. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is pictured in this undated handout photo provided by the U.S. Army. U.S. Army/Handout via Reuters THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
HAILEY, ID - JUNE 01: Yellow ribbons line Main Street as the hometown of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl awaits his homecoming on June 1, 2014 in Hailey, Idaho. Sgt. Bergdahl was captured in Afghanistan in 2009 while serving with U.S. Armys 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment in Paktika Province. Yesterday he was released after a swap for 5 prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay was arranged. Bergdahl was considered the only U.S. prisoner of war held in Afghanistan. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 31: President Barack Obama makes a statement about the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl as his parents, Jani Bergdahl (L) and Bob Bergdahl (R) listen May 31, 2014 in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, DC. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was held captive by militants for almost five years during the war in Afghanistan. (Photo by J.H. Owen-Pool/Getty Images)
Undated image from video footage taken from a Taliban-affiliated website shows a man who says he is Private First Class Bowe R. Bergdahl, a U.S. soldier captured by the Taliban in southeastern Afghanistan in late June. The Afghan Taliban said on December 25, 2009 that they had issued a new video tape of Bergdahl and added that in it he asks his government to take part in a prisoner exchange deal. REUTERS via Reuters TV (CONFLICT CIVIL UNREST) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
An undated family handout of U.S. Army private Bowe Bergdahl, 23, who is being held captive and detained by Taliban forces in Afghanistan, released to Reuters on July 22, 2009. Afghanistan's Taliban called on Americans to put pressure on their government over the capture of Bergdahl, saying in an internet message released over the weekend that Washington could not win the war despite its modern weaponry. REUTERS/Family Handout (UNITED STATES MILITARY HEADSHOT) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
SAN ANTONIO, TX - JUNE 13: (From left) Colonel Bradley Poppen, Ph.D., Major General Joseph P. DiSalvo, and Colonel Ronald N. Wool deliver a press conference at the Fort Sam Houston Golf Course July 13, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas. They are reporting on Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, his return to the United States, and reintegration at Brooke Army Medical Center after being a prison of war under Taliban captivity. (Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)
FT. BRAGG, NC - JULY 7: U.S. Army Sgt. Robert Bowdrie 'Bowe' Bergdahl, 30 of Hailey, Idaho, arrives at the Ft. Bragg military courthouse with his legal counsel for a pretrial military hearing on July 7, 2016 in Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. Bergdahl faces charges of desertion and endangering troops stemming from his decision to leave his outpost in 2009, which landed him five years in Taliban captivity. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
A billboard calling for the release of U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, held for nearly five years by the Taliban after being captured in Afghanistan, is shown in this picture taken near Spokane, Washington on February 25, 2014. Bergdahl has been released and is now in U.S. custody, President Barack Obama said on May 31, 2014. Picture taken on February 25, 2014. REUTERS/Jeff T. Green (UNITED STATES - Tags: MILITARY POLITICS CIVIL UNREST CONFLICT TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl (R) is escorted as he arrives at the courthouse for the start of sentencing proceedings in his court martial at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, U.S., October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake
U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl (R) is escorted into the courthouse for the start of sentencing proceedings in his court martial at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, U.S., October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake
FORT BRAGG, NC - OCTOBER 16: U.S. Army Sgt. Robert Bowdrie 'Bowe' Bergdahl, 29 of Hailey, Idaho, leaves the Ft. Bragg military courthouse for a lunch recess after pleading guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy on October 16, 2017 in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Bergdahl could face life in prison stemming from his decision to leave his outpost in 2009, which landed him five years in Taliban captivity. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
FT. BRAGG, NC - DECEMBER 22: Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl (2nd R) of Hailey, Idaho, leaves a military courthouse with his attorney Lt. Col. Franklin Rosenblatt (L) on December 22, 2015 in Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. Bergdahl was arraigned on charges of desertion and endangering troops stemming from his decision to leave his outpost in Afghanistan in 2009. He was captured by the Taliban and spent five years in captivity before being freed in a prisoner exchange. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
BOISE, ID - JUNE 01: Bob Bergdahl speaks about the release of his son Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl during a press conference at Gouen Field national guard training facility on June 1, 2014 in Boise, Idaho. Sgt. Bergdahl was captured in 2009 while serving with U.S. Armys 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment in Paktika Province, Afghanistan. Bergdahl was considered the only U.S. prisoner of war held in Afghanistan. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 31: President Barack Obama walks with the parents of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, Jani Bergdahl (L) and Bob Bergdahl (R) back to the Oval Office after making a statement regarding the release of Sgt. Bergdahl from captivity May 31, 2014 in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, DC. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was held captive by militants for almost five years during the war in Afghanistan. (Photo by J.H. Owen-Pool/Getty Images)
FT. BRAGG, NC - DECEMBER 22: Military personnel leave the Ft. Bragg Courthouse after the arraignment of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl on December 22, 2015 in Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. Bergdahl faces charges of desertion and endangering troops stemming from his decision to leave his outpost in Afghanistan in 2009. He was captured by the Taliban and spent five years in captivity before being freed in a prisoner exchange. Bergdahl now faces a maximum five-year penalty if ultimately convicted by a military jury of desertion, as well as potential life imprisonment on the more serious charge of misbehavior before the enemy. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
BOISE, ID - JUNE 01: Bob Bergdahl listens as his wife Jani reads a message to their son Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl during a press conference at Gouen Field national guard training facility on June 1, 2014 in Boise, Idaho. Sgt. Bergdahl who was captured in 2009 while serving with U.S. Armys 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment in Paktika Province, Afghanistan was released yesterday after a swap for Taliban prisoners. Bergdahl was considered the only U.S. prisoner of war held in Afghanistan. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
HAILEY, ID - JUNE 01: A sign announcing the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl sits in the window of the Hailey Paint and Supply store on Main Street June 1, 2014 in Hailey, Idaho. Sgt. Bergdahl was captured in Afghanistan in 2009 while serving with U.S. Armys 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment in Paktika Province. Yesterday he was released after a swap for 5 prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay was arranged. Bergdahl was considered the only U.S. prisoner of war held in Afghanistan. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
HAILEY, ID - JUNE 01: A sign announcing the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl sits outside the Power House restaurant on Main Street June 1, 2014 in Hailey, Idaho. Sgt. Bergdahl was captured in Afghanistan in 2009 while serving with U.S. Armys 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment in Paktika Province. Yesterday he was released after a swap for 5 prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay was arranged. Bergdahl was considered the only U.S. prisoner of war held in Afghanistan. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 10: Senate Armed Services Committee Member U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) talks with reporters after being briefed by military officals about the prisoner exchange that freed Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl at the U.S. Capitol June 10, 2014 in Washington, DC. The trade of Bergdahl for five senior Taliban officials has angered some members of Congress because they were not informed of the swap beforehand. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
HAILEY, ID - JUNE 02: A poster showing support for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and signed by guests is taped to the wall inside Zaney's coffee shop where Bergdahl worked as a teenager on June 2, 2014 in Hailey, Idaho. Sgt. Bergdahl was released from captivity on May 31 after being captured in Afghanistan in 2009 while serving with U.S. Armys 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment in Paktika Province. He was released after a deal was worked out to swap his freedom for the freedom of 5 Taliban prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay. Bergdahl was considered the only U.S. prisoner of war held in Afghanistan. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
HAILEY, ID - JUNE 02: The home of Bob and Jani Bergdahl is tucked into the base of a hill about 5 miles outside of town on June 2, 2014 near Hailey, Idaho. Sgt. Bergdahl's family and residents in the small town of Hailey are waiting for the return of Sgt. Bergdahl who was released from captivity on May 31. Bergdahl was captured by Taliban forces in Afghanistan in 2009 while serving with U.S. Armys 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment in Paktika Province. He was released after a deal was worked out to swap his freedom for the freedom of 5 Taliban prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay. Bergdahl was considered the only U.S. prisoner of war held in Afghanistan. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
HAILEY, ID - JUNE 02: The home of Bob and Jani Bergdahl is tucked into the base of a hill about 5 miles outside of town on June 2, 2014 near Hailey, Idaho. Sgt. Bergdahl's family and residents in the small town of Hailey are waiting for the return of Sgt. Bergdahl who was released from captivity on May 31. Bergdahl was captured by Taliban forces in Afghanistan in 2009 while serving with U.S. Armys 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment in Paktika Province. He was released after a deal was worked out to swap his freedom for the freedom of 5 Taliban prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay. Bergdahl was considered the only U.S. prisoner of war held in Afghanistan. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 10: Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.,speaks with reporters as he leaves the Senate Armed Services Committee briefing in the Capitol on the Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl prisoner exchange on Tuesday, June 10, 2014. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 18: (L-R) Andy Andrews, father of deceased U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Darryn Andrews, retired Army Spc. Cody Full, who served with Sgt. Bergdahl in Blackfoot Company, Second Platoon, and Mike Waltz, who commanded a Special Forces Company in Eastern Afghanistan in 2009, testify about the Bergdahl prisoner swap during a House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Capitol Hill, June 18, 2014 in Washington, DC. The subcommittee heard testimony on Implications for U.S. National Security due to the Bowe Bergdahl prisoner swap. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX - SEPTEMBER 17: U.S. Army MSG Frank Minnie announces the ground rules to the media covering the Article 32 preliminary hearing in the Bowe Bergdahl desertion case at Fort Sam Houston on September 17, 2015 in San Antonio, Texas. The hearing will decide if Bergdahl will face a military trial for leaving his post in Afghanistan. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX - JUNE 13: A sign for Brooke Army Medical Center is seen on June 13, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl returned to the United States and is being cared for at Brooke Army Medical Center after being a prisoner of war for five years in Afghanistan. (Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)
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(Reuters) - U.S. politicians questioned whether the deal that freed Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five Taliban militants amounted to a negotiation with terrorists as the U.S. soldier was flown out of Afghanistan to a military hospital in Germany on Sunday.

Army Sergeant Bergdahl, held for nearly five years in Afghanistan, was freed in a deal with the Taliban brokered by the Qatari government. Five Taliban militants, described by Senator John McCain as the "hardest of the hard core," were released from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and flown to Qatar.

While Bergdahl's released on Saturday was celebrated by his family and his hometown, and could be seen as a coup for President Barack Obama as he winds down America's longest war, McCain and other Republicans questioned whether the administration had acted properly in releasing the militants.

"These are the highest high-risk people. Others that we have released have gone back into the fight," said McCain, a former prisoner of war and Vietnam War veteran.

"That's been documented. So it's disturbing to me that the Taliban are the ones that named the people to be released." he said on CBS's "Face the Nation."

As the Obama administration sought to counter the criticism, Bergdahl was flown to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany for medical treatment. After receiving care he would be transferred to another facility in San Antonio, Texas, U.S. defense officials said, without giving a date for his return to the United States.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he hoped the exchange might lead to breakthroughs in reconciliation with the militants and rejected accusations from Republicans that it resulted from negotiations with terrorists, saying the swap had been worked out by the government of Qatar.(Full Story)

"We didn't negotiate with terrorists," Hagel said in an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press". "As I said and explained before, Sergeant Bergdahl was a prisoner of war. That's a normal process in getting your prisoners back."

Bergdahl, 28, was handed over on Saturday to U.S. forces who had flown in by helicopter. The Taliban said they had released Bergdahl near the border with Pakistan in eastern Afghanistan.

SLOW RECOVERY

His parents, Bob and Jani Bergdahl, told a news conference on Sunday they had not yet spoken to their son and were aware of the long task ahead as he adapts to being free, saying he needed time to decompress. (Full Story)

"It is like a diver going deep on a dive and he has to stage back up through recompression to get the nitrogen bubbles out of the system. If he comes up too fast, it could kill him," his father said.

Bergdahl, from Idaho, was the only known missing U.S. soldier in the Afghan war that began soon after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States to force the Taliban - accused of sheltering al Qaeda militants - from power.

He was captured in unknown circumstances in eastern Afghanistan on June 30, 2009, about two months after arriving in the country. Many U.S. government officials believe Bergdahl was seized after walking away from his unit in violation of U.S. military regulations.

But U.S. officials have indicated there is little desire to pursue any disciplinary action against him given what he has been through.

His release followed years of on-off negotiations and suddenly became possible after harder-line factions of the Afghan Taliban shifted course and agreed to back it, U.S. officials said. (Full Story)]

A senior Gulf source confirmed that the five released Taliban militants had arrived on Sunday in Doha, capital of Qatar, the Gulf emirate that acted as intermediary in the negotiations.

They would not be permitted to leave Qatar for a year, the source said, adding that their families had been flown from Afghanistan.

U.S. officials said the restrictions placed on them included monitoring of their activities. Those assurances were greeted with scepticism by U.S. Republicans and some Afghan officials, who voiced concerns that the men would rejoin the insurgency. (Full Story)

"They will be very dangerous people, because they have connections with regional and international terror organizations around the world," a senior Afghan intelligence official said.

In Washington, some Republicans suggested the administration had bypassed a legal requirement to notify Congress 30 days in advance about prisoner releases from Guantanamo and said the deal amounted to a negotiation with terrorists.

Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas called it a "dangerous price" to pay.

But Obama's national security adviser, Susan Rice, said the administration was concerned about Bergdahl's health and upheld a "sacred obligation" to return soldiers from the battlefield.

"We had reason to be concerned that this was an urgent and an acute situation, that his life could have been at risk," Rice said on ABC's "This Week." "We did not have 30 days to wait. And had we waited and lost him, I don't think anybody would have forgiven the United States government."

'HIGH RISK'

Some members of the U.S. Congress worried even before the prisoner exchange took place over the release of the five, particularly of Mohammed Fazl, a "high-risk" detainee who is alleged to be responsible for the killing of thousands of Afghanistan's minority Shi'ite Muslims between 1998 and 2001.

A U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, identified the five men as Fazl, Mullah Norullah Noori, Mohammed Nabi, Khairullah Khairkhwa and Abdul Haq Wasiq.

Pentagon documents released by the WikiLeaks organization said all five were sent to Guantanamo in 2002. They were classified as "high-risk" and "likely to pose a threat" to the United States, its interests and allies.

According to leaked U.S. diplomatic cables, Noori, for example, was a senior Taliban military commander wanted by the U.N. for possible war crimes and Wasiq was a Taliban deputy minister of intelligence who was a central figure in the group's alliance with other Islamic fundamentalist groups.

The prisoner exchange deal came days after Obama outlined a plan on Tuesday to withdraw all but 9,800 American troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year and the remainder by 2016, ending more than a decade of U.S. military engagement.

(Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni and Jessica Donati in Kabul, David Brunnstrom in Bagram, Amena Bakr in Doha and Missy Ryan, David Morgan, Phil Stewart and Bill Trott in Washington; Writing by Alex Richardson and Jim Loney; Editing by Jeremy Laurence, Lynne O'Donnell and Frances Kerry)

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