State Dept.: Congress Was 'Fully Briefed' on 'Architecture' of Taliban Prisoner Release

June 9, 2014 - 4:46 PM

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf.

(CNSNews.com) --State Department Deputy Spokeswoman Marie Harf would not directly say whether the Obama administration, in releasing five Taliban from Guantanamo in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, reneged on a promise made by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2012 to abide by the law the requires the administration to notify Congress 30 days before it releases prisoners from  Guantanamo.

Harf said that Congress was "fully briefed" ahead of time of the "architecture" of the deal to release the five Taliban leaders for Bergdahl.

At the State Department press briefing on Monday, CNSNews.com asked Harf: “Over the past week, and especially this weekend, both Senators Saxby Chambliss and Dianne Feinstein have quoted a letter from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in which she promised, and I’ll quote it: ‘I want also to make clear that any transfer from Guantanamo will be undertaken after consultation with Congress and pursuant to all legal requirements for transfers, including those spelled out in the FY2012 Defense Authorization Act’--which states that Congress must be given 30 days’ notice. Did the Obama administration renege on this promise?”

“Well first of all, I’d make a few points,” Harf said. “We’ve been very clear about why we did not believe, for operational security reasons and the life and safety of Sergeant Bergdahl, we could give advance notice, could risk giving advanced notice in the public domain. I’ve been very clear about that.”

“We were concerned about possibly someone holding Sergeant Bergdahl, if they found out about this [and] could take action against him,” said Harf.  “As we’ve seen now, over the past few days, he was held by ruthless people in very difficult conditions. So, I think there was a very clear reason why we did not give notification."

“I would also point out that the architecture of this deal, who the five were, where they would go and what we would get in return was fully briefed to Congress and, quite frankly, made very public in a number of news outlets, so the details of this was not a secret or a surprise to anyone on the Hill or to many people in the public,” Harf said. “They knew what the architecture was, and that’s what we ended up going with.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

She continued, "My final point would be that, look, this decision to release these five, to transfer these five to Qatar, had to be signed off on by the entire national security team--the current Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the chairman of the joint chiefs, the head of the office of director of National Intelligence--people that will not do anything that would adversely affect our national security in any way.”

Clinton’s Jan. 13, 2012  letter, along with her promise that U.S. law would be observed, came in response to a letter sent by Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) in late 2011. In their letter to Clinton, Feinstein and Chambliss had expressed concern over a potential prisoner transfer from the Guantanamo Bay facility, or Gitmo.

chambliss

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) (AP File Photo)

Now, following the release of five Taliban leaders in exchange for Sgt. Bergdahl, Chambliss maintains that the Obama administration broke the law by not notifying Congress in advance of the transfer.

“Secretary Clinton wrote a letter responding to Senator Feinstein and I, and acknowledged the fact that they had to give us 30 days’ notice, and yet the president failed to do that,” Chambliss told CNSNews.com on June 4.

“The president certainly violated the law,” Chambliss added. “The 30-day requirement was contained not just in one law that we passed, but three laws that we passed:  the 2012 Intelligence Authorization Bill, the 2012 Defense Authorization Bill, and the 2014 Defense Authorization Bill. These bills all contained a provision that required the president to give Congress 30 days’ notice before transferring any prisoner. He violated that. There's no question about it.”