(CNSNews.com) – Defending the administration’s controversial swap of five high-level Taliban detainees for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told a House panel Wednesday the freed men had not directly taken part in attacks on Americans – and was reminded that neither had Osama bin Laden.
“They were mid- to high-ranking members of the Taliban government, of the Taliban. So yes, they were part of planning, but my point was we have no direct evidence of any direct involvement in their direct attacks on the United States or any of our troops,” he told the House Armed Services Committee.
“So your point was, they didn’t pull the trigger, but they were senior commanders of the Taliban military who directed operations against the United States and its coalition partners?” asked Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas).
‘That’s right,” Hagel agreed, adding that as he had said in his earlier statement, they were combatants and “we were at war with the Taliban.”
Then committee chairman, Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) spoke.
“Just like bin Laden didn’t pull a trigger, but we went after him because he’s the one that caused 9/11,” he said.
McKeon did not wait for a response from Hagel, but gave the floor to the next committee member.
In his written statement, Hagel described the five released terrorists as “enemy belligerents” who had been detained under the law of war and held by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay.
“But they have not been implicated in any attacks against the United States, and we had no basis to prosecute them in a federal court or military commission. It was appropriate to consider them for an exchange.”
“And if any of these detainees ever try to rejoin the fight, they would be doing so at their own peril,” he continued.
Hagel said there was “always some risk associated with the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo,” but added that in the current case, “the security measures Qatar put in place led me to determine – consistent with the National Defense Authorization Act – that the risks they posed to the United States, our citizens, and our interests were substantially mitigated.”