Bergdahl prisoner swap deemed illegal by GAO

Non-partisan office declares Bergdahl prisoner swap illegal

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl | CREDIT: Wiki Commons
Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl | CREDIT: Wiki Commons

After months of political bickering the Government Accountability Office determined that the Pentagon broke the law when they swapped five Taliban leaders for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. The GAO issued their legal opinion saying the Defense Department violated the law by failing to notify Capitol Hill committees at least 30 days in advance.

The report also pointed out that the Pentagon broke another law by using funds that were not “technically” available. However, the Defense Department denies any wrongdoing. Defense Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby appeared on Fox News Thursday saying, “the operation to retrieve Sgt. Bergdahl was lawfully conducted and that was also the judgment of the Justice Department. Nothing has changed about our view that this was a lawful recovery operation.”

Both parties argued about the security threats posed by the release of the “Taliban Five” from Guantanamo, and the late notification by the Pentagon that they were going forward with the swap. Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski released a statement saying the president “clearly defied” the law. “We have all seen the President decide to override the concept of checks and balances in many questionable executive actions, but the GAO opinion confirms that by doing so in connection with the release of Bowe Bergdahl, he engaged in a clear violation of the law,” she said in a statement. “I hope this opinion by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office sends a clear signal to the President that his recent shift towards unilateral action is not consistent with this nation’s principles and our carefully designed separation of powers.”

It’s still unseen whether the reported findings will result in any legal complaint remains to be seen. House Armed Services Committee has prepared a “resolution of disapproval” potentially to be considered later this year about the swap, but such a measure is nonbinding. The most recent Defense spending bill states that no money can be used to transfer Guantanamo prisoners to another country “except in accordance” with a separate, related Defense law. That law requires the secretary of Defense to notify key congressional committees at least 30 days before such a transfer.

The Bergdahl swap took place May 31st, however the report said the committees were only notified between May 31 and June 2. The GAO reported that the DOD violated the Anti-deficiency Act, which bars spending by agencies above the amount of money that Congress has obligated.

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