U.S. President Barack Obama watches as Jami Bergdahl (L) and Bob Bergdahl (C) talk about the release of their son, prisoner of war U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, during a statement in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington May 31, 2014. Obama, flanked by the parents of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, a U.S. soldier who is being released after being held for nearly five years by the Taliban, said in the White House Rose Garden on Saturday that the United States has an "ironclad commitment" to bring home its prisoners of war. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY)
Obama: No apologies on Bergdahl
While President Obama may have “no apologies” to offer regarding the prisoner swap to free Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, members of New Hampshire’s congressional delegation say they continue to have questions and concerns about the decision.
On Thursday in Brussels, President Obama said he would make “absolutely no apologies” for ordering the controversial prisoner swap to rescue Bergdahl, the last American prisoner of war in Afghanistan. Responding to criticism from members of Congress and the military over the trade of five Guantanamo prisoners for Bergdahl, Obama said he is never surprised by “controversies that are whipped up in Washington.”
Bergdahl has been accused in recent days of abandoning his post in Afghanistan prior to his capture in 2009. (See related story, Page A4.)“I make absolutely no apologies for making sure we get back a young man to his parents,” Obama said at a joint news conference in Brussels with British Prime Minister David Cameron, according to a transcript released by the White House Press Office.
Obama said he had “discussed with Congress that something like this could occur” and reiterated that his administration had pressing concerns about the health and safety of Bergdahl.
“With the fragile nature of these negotiations, we felt like it was important to go ahead and do what we did,” the President said.
New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte is a member of the Armed Services Committee.
“While we have a responsibility to not leave American service members behind, releasing these hardened Taliban commanders was not the right way to achieve that result,” the Republican said Thursday in a written statement. “I don’t believe the conditions under which these high-risk detainees with likely links to al Qaeda were released are sufficient to ensure they won’t return to the fight against us — particularly since they were released to a country that has not fully honored previous detainee agreements.”
Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday that Bergdahl will face an investigation and a potential court-martial if the Army finds that he deserted his unit in Afghanistan.
“I believe the administration needs to do more to inform the public and Congress, and I continue to have concerns about the administration’s failure to consult Congress about Sgt. Bergdhal’s release,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH. “I am glad that Sgt. Bergdahl has been released, and I fully expect, as noted by General Dempsey, that there will be a full investigation into Bergdahl’s separation from his unit and that appropriate actions will be taken.”
Rep. Carol Shea- Porter, D-N.H., said POW/MIA groups have been contacting her office “for a long time about Sergeant Bergdahl, and I thank them for their efforts to bring Bowe Bergdahl home.”
“While I am glad he’s home, there are also some unanswered questions that require answers,” she said in a statement. “I have concerns about his reported actions and about the transfer of prisoners. The House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, and as a member of the committee, I will be there.”
Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H., said she had concerns over the swap, but understood the need for officials to bring Bergdahl home.
“My father Malcolm McLane was a prisoner of war in World War II,” said Kuster. “He was a pilot, shot down behind enemy lines in the Battle of the Bulge and held as a POW in Germany. I believe that when possible our government needs to uphold the sacred commitment with members of our military, who put their lives on the line every day to serve and protect our nation, to not leave anyone behind. Although I was not involved in the prisoner swap, and we do not know all of the details, I do have concerns with the lack of congressional consultation. I believe the military and Congress will review this situation and future policy to determine the right course of action for our country. As I continue to review this case and collect all of the facts, I look forward to attending the classified briefing for House members when I return to Washington on Monday.”
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have blasted Obama for not consulting with them prior to the deal, skirting a law mandating that the President inform them 30 days before initiating the transfer from any prisoner from the military prison. The White House has said the requirement is unconstitutional, a point Obama made in a signing statement when the bill became law.