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WH in 2013: Return of Bergdahl, Release of Detainees Two Separate Issues

11:08 AM, Jun 3, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
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At the White House press briefing Monday, Jay Carney was not asked directly about his statement from June 2013 that "we would not make any decisions about transfer of any detainees without consulting with Congress and without doing so in accordance with U.S. law," as we reported yesterday. However, the Washington Post reports that Carney rejected criticism about the lack of notice to Congress:

White House press secretary Jay Carney on Mondaydismissed criticism from lawmakers over the administration's Taliban prisoner swap for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, saying the deal "should not have come as a surprise to members of Congress" because the basic outlines had been discussed for years.

White House chief of staff Denis McDonough echoed Carney's assertion:

At a forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Monday, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough also defended the move, saying: "We've been consulting with members of Congress about this effort, including the potential transfer of five Gitmo detainees, for years."

However, in the same June 2013 press briefing where Carney made his statement that the White House would consult with Congress before making any detainee transfer decisions, he made clear that the White House considered the return of Sgt. Bergdahl and the release of any detainees to be two separate issues [emphasis added]:

Q    So you haven’t ruled it out [the Taliban has offered to release Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five members of the Taliban who are currently being held at Guantanamo Bay]? 

MR. CARNEY:  I’m simply saying that -- first of all, you have to separate the two issues.  We are focused on the return  -- the safe and immediate return of Sergeant Bergdahl, and we continue to use the tools at our disposal to help bring that about. 

We also expect the Taliban to raise the issue of their detainees in discussions that we have with them if those discussions take place.  And at this time we’ve made no decisions about the transfer of detainees.  And in accordance with law, we would be consulting with Congress should we make any decisions about that.  So we remain committed to the closure of Guantanamo Bay, as you know.  But separate from that on these specific issues about individual detainees, that would be a process that is done in accordance with law.

The Obama administration is also claiming that secrecy and lack of time were other considerations in the lack of congressional consultation or even notification.  House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers is now saying Congress was last consulted about a possible Bergdahl-detainee swap in 2011, the Hill reports.

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