The U.S. Government Accountability Office released a seven-page report on Thursday saying the Obama administration’s Defense Department violated U.S. law by swapping five Guantanamo Bay detainees for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl without giving congress advance notice of the transfer.
Republicans blasted the prisoner swap earlier this year in large part because most members were given just a few hours’ notice that it was happening. According to the GOP, that went against the Defense Department spending bill for 2014, which required a 30 day notice before moving anyone out of Guantanamo Bay.
The GAO report agreed with the Republican argument and said Defense appears to have violated the law.
“Section 8111 prohibits DOD from using appropriated funds to transfer any individuals detained at Guantanamo Bay unless the Secretary of Defense notifies certain congressional committees at least 30 days before the transfer,” it said.
“[W]e conclude that DOD violated section 8111 because it did not notify the relevant congressional committees at least 30 days in advance of the transfer,” it added.
At the time, the administration said it had to work quickly to secure Bergdahl’s return, but Republicans rejected that as an excuse not to involved Congress.
GAO also said Defense violated another law by using funds to carry out the transfer when there was no money appropriated for that purpose.
But while the report sides with the GOP, it’s not clear what they can do about it at this point. Bergdahl has returned to the United States, and the former Guantanamo detainees are in Qatar, which has promised to keep them in the country for a year.
One option could be to somehow punish the Defense Department in the next spending bill.
In the House, Republicans have proposed a resolution disapproving of the Obama administration’s failure to notify Congress about the transfer. But even if the resolution were approved, it is non-binding and would have no legal impact against the administration.
That resolution, from Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.), also expresses relief that Bergdahl has been returned home.
Read GAO’s report here: