Oklahoma Reps. Tom Cole, R-Moore, and Jim Bridenstine, R-Tulsa, released statements on Monday critical of the Obama administration’s decision to exchange five former Taliban leaders who were being held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay for U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
Cole, whose district includes Tinker Air Force Base and the U.S. Army post Fort Sill, said, “Whether serving on our own soil or directly in harm’s way overseas, the lives of our military are invaluable. Undoubtedly, we certainly understand the relief felt by the family of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who was released from the captivity of terrorists after nearly five years.
“While Americans always celebrate the return of one of our own soldiers from captivity, the manner in which the release of Sergeant Bergdahl was achieved diminishes the safety of other Americans serving in harm’s way while increasing the risks of future acts of terror and hostage taking by terrorists operating in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the globe. More importantly, the recent action by the Administration violates a cardinal rule of American diplomacy. The United States does not negotiate with terrorists nor do we bargain for hostages.
“Even more concerning, the president did not notify Congress of his intention to engage in this exchange, which directly violates current law requiring notification and threat assessment of such transfers at least 30 days in advance. Because the president acted alone, rather than consulting Congress, he has put our nation and world in greater danger. Moreover, he has ignited a domestic debate that will confuse our friends, embolden our enemies and divide our country. That could have been avoided had the president followed the law and consulted with Congress before he engaged in this ill-advised prisoner exchange.”
Bridenstine, a former U.S. Navy pilot and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said, “As a combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, I am glad that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is going to be reunited with his family.
“This does not excuse the Obama Administration’s blatant disregard for the law and the dangerous precedent of negotiating with terrorists.
“The law is very explicit on transfers or releases of any Guantanamo detainees. The Secretary of Defense is required to make certain specific determinations regarding the national security implications of any intended transfer/release and to notify Congress 30 days in advance of any transfer/release. Congress was officially notified more than 72 hours after these detainees were transferred. The law is not ‘an advisory’ for the President. The President is not above the law.
“Beyond breaking the law, the President set a very dangerous precedent by negotiating with terrorists. He has incentivized them to take more hostages. The Administration stated that it moved quickly because Sgt. Bergdahl appeared to be in poor health. That compounds the incentive for terrorists to not only take American hostages but also to treat them poorly in order to gain leverage.
“It is dangerous to release top Taliban leaders from Guantanamo. They are held for a reason, and when they are released we know that many return to the battlefield. The Director of National Intelligence’s latest assessment concluded that nearly 30% of former Guantanamo detainees were confirmed or suspected of reengaging in terrorism after release (178 of 614 former detainees). News reports indicate the detainees transferred are five of the most ‘valuable’ Taliban leaders, so a mere one year travel ban is not very reassuring.
“This dangerous move by the Obama Administration cannot be viewed as simply returning an American soldier to his family. The failed Obama foreign policy put us in the position of making this deal. America is not in any way safer because of this action.”