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Congressman blasts SecDef for Bergdahl health claims

Jun. 2, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Kevin McCarthy, Duncan Hunter, Michael Grimm
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., has written a letter to President Obama criticizing the trade of five Taliban leaders to release Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. (Carolyn Kaster / AP)
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California Congressman Duncan Hunter has challenged the Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s assertions that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s health depended on quick action.

Hunter, in a strongly worded letter issued Monday to President Obama, claimed the SecDef had no way of knowing Bergdahl’s physical well-being.

“Several sources with knowledge of the situation have informed me that any specifics about [his] health were nearly impossible to access, unless otherwise stated by the Taliban,” Hunter wrote nothing that the source of information was an “untrustworthy partner.”

Hagel, who was traveling to Afghanistan to meet with U.S. troops, said notice of Saturday’s action was not relayed to Congress because of its urgency. He said intelligence indicated that Bergdahl’s “health was deteriorating.”

Hunter, a former Marine officer and veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, is the latest Republican to blast President Obama’s administration for the handling of the Bergdahl release.

Hagel said on Sunday that U.S. officials had intelligence suggesting Bergdahl’s health and safety were in jeopardy, justifying a prisoner swap without the required congressional notification.

Though Hunter did say Bergdahl’s release was “welcome news,” it has been mired what he considered an unfair trade.

“Now a situation has been created whereby prisoner exchanges — specifically disproportionate exchanges — are viewed by the Taliban and other aligned forces as achievable,” Hunter said.

Hunter also questioned Obama over three Americans still believed to be held by Taliban-aligned militants. Caitlin Coleman is believed to be kidnapped while pregnant in Afghanistan in 2012 with her Canadian husband. Separately, 72-year-old contractor Warren Weinstein was taken from Pakistan in 2011. Hunter’s letter assumes Coleman gave birth in captivity.

Assuming the three are still held, Hunter said, “I would like to know why these individuals were not included in the negotiations that resulted in the release of five detainees from Guantanamo Bay.”

House Armed Services chair Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., and Senate Armed Services ranking member Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., issued a joint statement May 31 calling the president’s actions illegal. They said lawmakers were not notified 30 days before the transfer of the Guantanamo detainees, as required by law.

In response, the White House said officials considered what they called “unique and exigent circumstances” and decided to go ahead with the transfer in spite of the legal requirement.

Susan Rice, the national security adviser, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” there were extensive consultations with Congress in the past about getting Bergdahl back and that lawmakers knew the idea of trading detainees was on the table.

McKeon announced this morning that his committee will be holding hearings on the matter.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., expressed joy that Bergdahl would be reunited with his family, but questioned the deal as well, both in an appearance on “Face the Nation” over the weekend and in a statement:

“These particular individuals are hardened terrorists who have the blood of Americans and countless Afghans on their hands,” McCain said of the released prisoners. “I am eager to learn what precise steps are being taken to ensure that these vicious and violent Taliban extremists never return to the fight against the United States and our partners or engage in any activities that can threaten the prospects for peace and security in Afghanistan.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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