Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said President Barack Obama made a “heroic” decision to swap five Guantanamo detainees to secure the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, despite lingering questions about whether the swap sends the message that the U.S. will negotiate with terrorists.
“The release of American prisoner of war Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was a culmination of heroic efforts by our military, our government and our president,” Reid said Wednesday on the Senate floor. “President Obama, as commander in chief, acted honorably in helping an American soldier return home to his family.”
Reid also blasted Republicans for criticizing the swap, and said the GOP opposes it for purely political reasons.
“Unfortunately… opponents of President Obama have seized upon the release of an American prisoner of war… using what should be a moment of unity and celebration for our nation as a chance to play political games,” he said. “The safe return of an American solider should not be used for political points.”
“It’s clear they’re worried his release could be seen as a victory for President Obama,” he added. “It’s not a victory for President Obama. It’s a victory for soldiers, their families and our great country.”
Reid’s comments were made just a day after press reports surfaced that said the White House was surprised that people weren’t more enthusiastic about Bergdahl’s release. Republicans in both the House and Senate immediately criticized the move, in large part because members of both parties were cool to the idea of a prisoner swap when it was floated in 2011.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the government needs to explain why the swap won’t put Americans overseas at risk of being kidnapped, in the hopes of trading them for more prisoners.
Questions are also being asked about whether it made sense to send five senior Taliban soldiers to Qatar, and only require them to stay there for one year, in order to secure Bergdahl’s release.
Reid didn’t address those issues in his Wednesday morning floor speech. He did, however, address questions about whether Bergdahl was an Army deserter.
Reid said he didn’t know the answer to that, but said he trusted the U.S. military to discipline Bergdahl for any inappropriate actions he may have taken.
“But certainly that’s a better approach than having the Taliban to it. I will choose the justice system of the United States Army, American justice, every time.”
Late Tuesday, the House Armed Services Committee said it wants Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to testify on June 11 about the details of the prisoner swap.