Oversight Report: Obama Admin Violated Law by Freeing Taliban Members

GAO: Congress not legally notified before Obama freed Gitmo inmates

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, right, stands with a Taliban fighter in eastern Afghanistan / AP
August 21, 2014

The Obama administration violated federal law when it released five senior Taliban leaders from prison without notifying Congress, as is legally mandated, according to an investigation by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The GAO concluded in a report issued Thursday that the Obama administration failed to provide proper notification of the Taliban release and illegally used taxpayer funds that were not appropriated to enable the inmate transfer, according to the report.

The Obama administration in May secretly struck a deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan to free from the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba five of its top leaders in exchange for the return of captured U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl, who was later accused by fellow soldiers of having deserted the Army prior to his capture.

The Pentagon was found to have "violated" the 2014 Department of Defense Appropriations Act "when it transferred five individuals detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the nation of Qatar without providing at least 30 days notice to certain congressional committees," according to the report.

The Defense Department also was legally prohibited from using congressionally appropriated funds to pay for the transfer of detainees from Gitmo without first getting approval from Congress, which the Obama administration failed to do, according to the report.

"As a consequence of using its appropriations in a manner specifically prohibited by law, DOD also violated the Antideficiency Act," which prevents unauthorized government expenditures, the GAO found.

GAO concludes that "when DOD failed to notify specified congressional committees at least 30 days in advance of its transfer of Guantanamo Bay detainees to Qatar, DOD used appropriated funds in violation of section 8111" of the law.

The oversight agency further concluded that the Pentagon and Obama administration clearly failed to "notify the relevant congressional committees at least 30 days in advance of the transfer," the report states. "In addition, because DOD used appropriated funds to carry out the transfer when no money was available for that purpose, DOD violated the Antideficiency Act."

The Pentagon was found to have used $988,400 from the Army’s operation and maintenance to fund the mission.

While the Pentagon defended its actions when asked for an explanation by the GAO, the investigation ultimately found that the "DOD has dismissed the significance of the express language enacted in" the law prohibiting it from using congressionally appropriated funds to execute the Taliban transfer.

The Pentagon legally should have notified Congress of its actions before funding and carrying out the transfer, according to the report.

"To read section 8111 [of the relevant law] otherwise would render the notification requirement meaningless," the GAO wrote.

The GAO further concludes that the Pentagon violated the Antideficienty Act by inappropriately funding the transfer of the five Taliban leaders from Gitmo.

DOD "obligated funds that were not legally available for obligation because DOD did not satisfy the notification requirements," the GAO wrote.