WASHINGTON — Georgia’s senior U.S. senator is calling upon the Obama administration to make public information on the five members of the Taliban, labeled dangerous by the Pentagon, who have been freed in exchange for an Army sergeant who the Taliban had held prisoner for five years in Afghanistan.
In a letter to President Barack Obama dated Tuesday, Chambliss, vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, urged Obama to declassify intelligence on five Afghan nationals, Khairullah Khairkhwa, Nurullah Noori, Mullah Mohammad Fazl, Abdul Haq Wasiq and Mohammad Nabi Omari, who were transferred last weekend from Guantanamo Bay to Qatar.
The five were freed in exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Bengdahl, who had been held captive by the Taliban in Afghanistan since disappearing from his assignment under mysterious circumstance in June 2009. At least six U.S. soldiers were killed in searches for Bergdahl after he turned up missing at roll call. Increasingly, Bergdahl has come under criticism from former comrades who say he walked away from his post voluntarily before his capture.
He is undergoing medical care, but Army officials, after initially indicating they would not pursue charges against him, now say they will not ignore any improper conduct that is determined.
The Army on Wednesday listed Bergdahl in stable condition at its Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.
Obama has come under criticism from members of Congress for failure to notify lawmakers before the release of the five Afghan nationals, who had been held at Gitmo since 2002. All five were classified as “high-risk” by the Pentagon and were seen as dangerous to U.S. security.
As part of the deal with the Taliban that was brokered by the Qatari government, the five released prisoners are required to remain in Qatar for a year and will be monitored, though U.S. officials say the United States won’t be conducting the monitoring. After that year is up, the five are free to leave Qatar — including returning to Afghanistan — and their movements in Qatar are not restricted, officials have said.
“In addition to explaining why he did not notify Congress of this prisoner swap, President Obama needs to look the American people in the eye and explain why he was justified in releasing these individuals,” Chambliss said today. “He also needs to explain the risks associated with transferring these individuals and why they will never face justice for their past actions.
“The president should immediately declassify each of their 2009 assessments and let the American people know what each of these individuals was accused of, why they were being held at Guantanamo, and what this administration found in each of their annual reviews. If the American people had this information, they would agree we should not be returning these terrorists back to the fight.”
The Obama administration has cited a need to act swiftly because of health concerns about Bergdahl as the reason for failing to notify Congress of the Afghan nationals’ releases before they occurred, as required under the Fiscal Year 2012 Defense Authorization Act.
Chambliss said in his letter that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel “cited an ‘acute and urgent danger to the life of Sergeant Bergdahl,’ for failing to properly notify Congress. Despite several requests, I have not seen any evidence of a danger so urgent as to preclude the required notification.”
Chambliss’ office said the senator had not received a response to his letter as of noon today.