Taliban trade has questions

Published 4:30 pm Tuesday, June 17, 2014

By U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne

Two weeks ago, five mid to high-ranking Taliban officials were exchanged for U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who had been held captive in Afghanistan for the past five years. I don’t blame President Obama for wanting to bring home an American prisoner of war, but I do have serious concerns about how it happened.

It is a longstanding policy that the United States does not negotiate with terrorists, and for good reason. I worry this exchange has set a dangerous precedent, and that our military members serving in the Middle East, and Americans the world over, are in greater danger today due to the release of these hardened terrorists. The Taliban now has even greater incentive to capture Americans and use them as bargaining chips.

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Last week, I had the opportunity to question Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel during a House Armed Services Committee hearing. While I appreciate Secretary Hagel spending over five hours answering questions from committee members, his testimony actually raised more questions than it answered.

I specifically pressed Secretary Hagel and Department of Defense General Counsel Stephen Preston about why the Obama administration ignored a provision in the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, which requires the Secretary of Defense to notify Congress 30 days before releasing prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. President Obama consulted with Congress in the months leading up to the Osama bin Laden mission, so why couldn’t his administration keep Congress apprised of this exchange?

Every American should be concerned that the President believes he can unilaterally decide when he will ignore the law. It is eerily reminiscent of the Nixon administration idea that “when the president does it, that means it is not illegal.” President Obama’s continued disregard for the rule of law is now affecting our national security.

When I held town hall meetings in Monroeville, Flomaton, and Lillian earlier this month, many of those in attendance expressed the same concerns.  I understand this prisoner exchange has already occurred, and there is little Congress can do to change that. But I believe we must get answers to ensure that a future exchange of this nature doesn’t happen again. Our men and women in uniform deserve it.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne represents the 1st Congressional District of Alabama, which includes Escambia County.