Washington (AFP) – President Barack Obama’s decision to swap five detained Taliban operatives for an American soldier captured in Afghanistan has baffled lawmakers, with many questioning the military and political merits of the controversial exchange.
Some warned that the president, already burdened by a series of crises, has sunk deeper into political quicksand by negotiating with terrorists, keeping Congress in the dark or manufacturing a military success story in order to mask other scandals.
Obama stands accused by a senior member of his own Democratic Party, Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein, of breaking U.S. law by failing to provide lawmakers 30 days’ notice before transferring prisoners out of Guantanamo.
In addition to its legality, Republicans and Democrats alike questioned the timing, political optics and price of the operation that saw U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl released by his Taliban captors after five years of captivity in Afghanistan.
The White House has offered several explanations for acting without congressional notification to recover Bergdahl.
At first, it argued his health and safety were in immediate jeopardy. Later, it said a delay would interfere with the president’s constitutional function of protecting Americans.
Dramatically complicating the defense of the swap are the questionable circumstances of Bergdahl’s capture, with some soldiers accusing the 28-year-old of desertion and the U.S. military announcing it will investigate whether he should be disciplined.
“It doesn’t look good,” Senator Joe Manchin winced on Wednesday ahead of a classified briefing for all 100 senators in which officials provided details on the exchange.
But Manchin said he emerged with more questions than answers.
With the backlash growing, officials in Bergdahl’s hometown of Hailey, Idaho cancelled a June 28 homecoming parade “in the interest of public safety,” saying the town was too small for a large influx of supporters and journalists.