Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel on Wednesday made several concessions, acknowledging the Obama administration could have done a better job of informing Congress in the months preceding the trade of five senior Taliban members for prisoner, Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.
“I value the Defense Department’s partnership with this Congress and the trust we have developed over the years,” said Hagel, speaking to the House Armed Services Committee. “I know that trust has been broken, I know you have questions about that.”
“We could have done a better job,” he said earlier in the hearing. “We could have done a better job of keeping you informed.”
Hagel made the remarks after receiving pointed criticism from Republicans, but also from the Committee’s Ranking Member, Adam Smith (Wash.), a Democrat, for failure to work with Congress and give a 30-days notice to Congress prior to the transfer of Guantanamo Bay detainees, as required by the law.
“It was wrong… It’s wrong that when you knew that you were thinking about doing this deal that you didn’t take the top leadership of Congress and talk about it,” said Smith.
Smith also suggested the administration had erred in its failure to give Congress 30-day notification before transferring the Taliban prisoners to Qatar.
“The law is the law,” said Smith. “The way you challenge constitutionality is you go to court and you figure out whether or not he courts say its constitutional.”
McKeon, for his part, said that between 80 to 90 members of the administration new of the deal while apparently no one in Congress was informed.
“These negotiations began in January of last year,” he said. “[Y]et in all that time the leadership of the House that has the responsibility of co- leadership according to the Constitution with the president of the United States was not informed.”
McKeon said he believed that if the administration had complied with the notification requirement of the law it would have received full cooperation from Congress.
“If you had met with us… full compliance with the the law would have been met and I don’t think we would have pushed back at all,” he said. “[I] wish that you or somebody had sat down with the leadership of the Congress and told us the same things you just told us in your briefing here.”
In the hearing Hagel fielded a number of questions from members, and repeated several of the talking points the administration has pushed since the swap, arguing the deal required swift action, utmost secrecy, and that the prisoner swap with the Taliban was routine part of war.