Bill Would Reprimand Obama for Breaking Law on Taliban Swap

Resolution ‘condemning and disapproving’ White House secrecy
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel testifies before the House Armed Services Committee / AP

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel testifies before the House Armed Services Committee / AP

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A bipartisan delegation of House lawmakers are circulating a measure to reprimand the Obama administration for violating a U.S. law mandating that the administration provide Congress with advance notice before releasing dangerous terrorists from the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.

The resolution comes in response to White House efforts to keep Congress in the dark about its controversial decision to release five top Taliban prisoners in exchange for captured Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel admitted in testimony to lawmakers Wednesday that the Obama administration intentionally and knowingly ignored the law, which mandates that Congress be given 30 days notice before the release of any detainee.

The administration’s decision to inform up to 90 executive branch staffers of the deal while keeping Congress—and top U.S. commanders in Afghanistan—in the dark has sparked anger and frustration among lawmakers who say that Obama has a pattern of disregarding laws that he finds inconvenient.

The new House resolution—which is being circulated by Reps. Scott Rigell (R., Va.), Reid Ribbe (R., Wis.), John Barrow (D., Ga.), and Nick Rahall (D., W.Va.)—would serve as an official rebuke from Congress on the issue.

The measure “condemns and disapproves” of the Obama administration’s “failure to comply with the lawful statutory requirement of congressional notification prior to the release of detainees from the United States detention facility at Guantanamo Bay,” according to a draft copy of the resolution.

It also “expresses grave concern over national security implications that may arise due to the release of Taliban leaders and the repercussions of negotiating with terrorists,” according to the draft text, which is currently being circulated among House members.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a massive national security bill, stipulates that the secretary of defense “notify the appropriate committees of Congress at least 30 days before the transfer or release of a detainee held at Guantanamo Bay,” according to the law as written.

However, the Obama administration inked the initial deal to free the Taliban leaders on May 12, according to Hagel’s testimony.

The deal was executed on May 31 and congressional leaders were notified of the prisoner swap on June 2, “three days after the detainees were released, and 33 days beyond the date required by law,” the resolution states.

“The administration admits that it made no effort to comply with the 30 day notification requirement,” according to the resolution, a fact that has been confirmed by Hagel and others.

Senior administration officials have sought to explain their rationale to Congress in several classified briefings on the matter.

Lawmakers who have attended these sessions maintain that Obama officials refuse to answer specific questions or explain the justification for the deal.

“After receiving a classified briefing from the administration, I disagree with how the administration negotiated with terrorists for the transfer of terrorists we already had in custody,” Barrow said in a statement about the resolution. “I’m concerned that they failed to follow the law to give proper notice to Congress. Checks and balances aren’t negotiable.”

The resolution addresses the administration’s ongoing refusal to provide Congress with a full explanation of the deal, stating: “The administration has offered differing, unconvincing and conflicting explanations of why it failed to comply with the 30 day notification requirement, and has described the failure to notify Congress as an ‘oversight.’”

The “release of the five detainees has burdened unnecessarily the trust and confidence in the administration’s commitment and ability to constructively engage and work with the legislative branch, and therefore works against what is in the best interest of the American people,” according to the resolution.

Hagel addressed Congress’s waning confidence in the White House, admitting to lawmakers, “the trust has been broken.”

The House resolution additionally maintains that the prisoner swap will “further encourage hostilities and the abduction of Americans as a means of further prisoner exchanges.”