House Republicans said Monday that the Obama administration gave Congress just five hours notice that they were about to start moving five detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Qatar.
Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee said that violates current law, which requires a 30-day notice.
The administration announced over the weekend that it was moving five detainees to Qatar as part of an agreement that will allow U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, a Taliban prisoner in Afghanistan, to return home. That deal was immediately criticized by Republicans who said it amounts to negotiating the release of hostages with terrorists, while others said there is evidence that Bergdahl was an Army deserter.
Republicans are also upset that they received almost no warning of the agreement. In a release to reporters, the GOP said the Defense Department notified the committee on Saturday by phone “that the exchange was underway and the detainees would depart Guantanamo in the next five hours.”
“A phone call does not meet the legal standard of congressional notification,” it said. It added that formal congressional notification was only received by the committee on Monday, June 2, “more than 72 hours after the detainees were released.”
The 30-day notification requirement was signed into law by President Barack Obama. However, Obama attached a signing statement to that bill saying the executive branch needs flexibility to make these sorts of decisions.
Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said in a television interview Monday that he would hold a hearing on the agreement and the lack of proper notification to Congress. In the meantime, his committee noted that the law requires officials to find that the risks associated with releasing Guantanamo Bay detainees is mitigated, and that detailed information about the release must be transferred to Congress.
The language also says no money can be used by the government to transfer detainees to their country of origin.
These requirements were included in the National Defense Authorization Act for 2014, a bill that sets out defense policy through the end of the current fiscal year.