The Obama administration has told senators it didn’t notify Congress about the pending swap of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban officials because the Taliban had threatened to kill him if the deal was made public before it happened. That’s according to three congressional officials who spoke to The Associated Press.
The officials said Thursday that the threat – not just concerns that the captive’s health might be failing – drove the Obama administration to quickly make a deal to rescue Bergdahl. The threat had been transmitted by Qatari officials at the height of the negotiations.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was referring in part to the threat when he said Sunday that “there was a question about his safety,” the officials told the senators in a closed-door briefing on Wednesday.
President Barack Obama said Thursday he “absolutely makes no apologies” for seeking the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in a prisoner swap with the Taliban, vigorously defending an exchange that has caused a furor in the United States and has dogged the president on his European trip this week.
When it comes to getting soldiers back from war, Obama said, “We don’t condition whether or not we make the effort to try to get them back.”
He also said Bergdahl’s health had been deteriorating and “We were deeply concerned about it.
“We saw an opportunity and we seized it. And I make no apologies for that,” Obama said during a joint news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Bergdahl was released following a deal between the U.S. and the Taliban that was brokered by Qatar. Five Taliban detainees held in Guantanamo were released as part of the exchange. Republicans and Democrats have objected to the swap.
Obama said his administration had discussed the possibility of such an exchange with members of Congress in the past. But he did not notify lawmakers in advance that he planned to release Guantanamo detainees. He is required to provide such notice 30 days ahead of a release.
“Because of the nature of the folks that we were dealing with and the fragile nature of these negotiations, we felt it was important go ahead and do what we did,” he said.
He also defended his announcement of the release, which he did Saturday at the White House with Bergdahl’s parents at his side.
“It was important for people to understand that this is not some abstraction, this is not a political football,” he said. “You have a couple of parents whose kid volunteered to fight in a distant land, who they hadn’t seen in five years and weren’t sure whether they’d ever see again.”
He said that as commander in chief of U.S. military forces, he has a responsibility for those soldiers.
“I make absolutely no apologies for making sure that we get back a young man to his parents and that the American people understand that this is somebody’s child and that we don’t condition whether or not we make the effort to try to get them back,” he said.