WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — Sen. Ted Cruz says he is going to file legislation to halt anymore releases of detainees at Guantanamo Bay until an investigation is done on the deal that released Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from Taliban captivity.
Speaking to Fox News Wednesday, the Republican senator called it a “very troubling deal.”
“This should not have been done in negotiation with terrorists to release the Gitmo five,” Cruz told Fox News. “That undermined our national security. We need to get to the bottom of why this administration is releasing senior Taliban terrorists.”
Bergdahl, who was held by the Taliban for the past five years after he left his Afghan Army base in June 2009, was released this past weekend after President Barack Obama agreed to the exchange. National Security Adviser Susan Rice has come under fire for saying that Bergdahl served “with honor and distinction.” Several of Bergdahl’s unit comrades have accused him of desertion and a reported six soldiers were killed looking for the Army sergeant.
Cruz said that the Obama administration’s “story keeps changing.”
“What is going on when the administration keeps sending senior officials to talk to the American people and to say things that are palpably false?” Cruz told Fox News.
Cruz questioned the vetting the White House conducted before agreeing to the exchange.
“The White House, in my view, should release and declassify the files on the Gitmo five. If they say we should hand terrorists over, the American people deserve to know what they have done,” Cruz told Fox News.
Cruz also referenced Gitmo detainee Fouzi Khalid Abdullah al-Awda, who has been held at Guantanamo Bay since 2002. According to Reuters, a Pentagon file accused al-Awda of probably attending an extremist camp and that he also may have fought in Afghanistan against U.S. troops. He appeared before the Periodic Review Board Wednesday in an effort to be transferred to Kuwait for a rehabilitation program.
“We’re hearing talk they are considering releasing yet another Guantanamo terrorist. I intend next week to file legislation to halt any releases from Guantanamo until we get to the bottom of what happened in Bergdahl and provide some real congressional oversight here because it is really needed,” Cruz explained to Fox News.
Bergdahl was captured after walking away from his unit, unarmed, in 2009. He’s currently at a military hospital in Germany, where he was reported in stable condition.
U.S. lawmakers and others have complained that Congress should have been consulted about the prisoner exchange, that the deal will embolden the Taliban to snatch more American soldiers, and that the released Afghans will filter back to the battlefield.
In Washington, Rob Williams, the U.S. national intelligence officer for South Asia, told the Senate intelligence committee Tuesday that four of the men are expected to resume activities with the Taliban, according to two senior congressional officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the session was classified. The five include the former Taliban interior minister.
A Taliban statement quoted leader Mullah Mohammad Omar as saying the release of the five Taliban was a significant achievement. Obama has defended the swap, citing a “sacred” obligation to not leave men and women in uniform behind.
Hoping to ease mounting criticism, officials from the State Department, Pentagon and intelligence agencies briefed senators behind closed doors Wednesday evening. They showed the lawmakers a 1½-minute video provided by the Taliban that proved Bergdahl was alive and indicated to the administration that his deteriorating health required quick action.
U.S. negotiations with the Taliban to secure Bergdahl’s release have gathered steam since April. Besides the chance that his health was in decline, administration officials also wanted to make a deal because they knew that the drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan would decrease resources on the ground and reduce the amount and quality of intelligence from the area.
The administration is required to notify Congress 30 days before transferring Guantanamo detainees, but the White House thought waiting was too risky — that too much could go wrong in a month so they went forward with the fast-moving negotiations.
In an interview that aired Thursday on the BBC, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said: “Can you imagine if we would have waited or taken the chance of leaks? Over a 30 day period? … That would have seriously imperiled us ever getting him out.”
Bergdahl was released less than 30 days after the U.S. signed a memorandum of understanding with Qatar that gave the White House assurances that the detainees, after being transferred to Doha, the capital of Qatar, would adhere to a one-year travel ban and other restrictions. Bergdahl was freed just one day after the White House received a green light from the military that the operation was a go — and less than an hour passed between the time the U.S. learned the transfer was about to happen and Bergdahl walked to freedom.
Some of Bergdahl’s former comrades have complained that U.S. soldiers died during the search for him after he walked away. The military has not confirmed such a link.
Hagel said the Army will review the case, and cautioned against drawing conclusions.
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