Jun 11 2014
WASHINGTON- Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, made the following opening statement as prepared for delivery for a hearing on The May 31, 2014 Transfer of Five Senior Taliban Detainees
Witness testimony can be found on the Committee Repository as prepared for delivery; the committee is no longer providing paper copies of witness testimony. Additionally, a live video feed of the hearing can be seen on the Committee website.
"I would like to thank Secretary Hagel and Mr. Preston for testifying before the committee today on the May 31st transfer of five senior Taliban detainees from detention at Guantanamo Bay to the government of Qatar.
"The matter before us is deeply troubling. This committee has begun a full investigation into the administration’s decision, its unprecedented negotiations with terrorists, the national security implications of releasing these dangerous individuals from U.S. custody, and the violation of national security law. We hope for and expect the Department’s full cooperation.
"Let me be clear upfront on the focus of today’s hearing. It is not my intention to dive into the circumstances of the disappearance of Sergeant Bergdahl from his base in 2009. There will be a time and process for that. I also do not intend to use this hearing to weigh the merits of returning an American soldier to the United States. Everyone who wears the uniform should be returned home.
However, the detainee transfer raises numerous national security policy and legal questions. The explanations we received from White House officials at a House-wide briefing earlier this week were misleading and often times blatantly false.
"This transfer sets a dangerous precedent in negotiating with terrorists. It reverses longstanding U.S. policy and could incentivize other terrorist organizations, including al Qaeda, to increase their use of kidnappings of U.S. personnel.
"It increases risk to our military and civilian personnel serving in Afghanistan and elsewhere. As the President, yourself, and other administration officials have acknowledged, these five terrorists still pose a threat to Americans and Afghans alike, and in one year they will be free to return to Afghanistan or anywhere else. What’s more, although there will be fewer U.S. personnel in Afghanistan in 2015, the return of these five Taliban leaders directly threatens the gains our men and women have fought and died for.
"This transfer is a clear violation of section 1035 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014. There is no compelling reason why the Department could not provide a notification to Congress 30 days before the transfer, especially when it has complied with the notification requirement for all previous GTMO detainee transfers since enactment of the law.
"The statute is more than a 'notification.' It requires detailed national security information, including detailed consideration of risk and risk mitigation, that the Congress and American people would expect any administration to consider before a decision is made to transfer GTMO detainees. It was designed and approved by a bipartisan majority in Congress due to real concerns that dangerous terrorists were being released in a manner that allowed them to return to the battlefield.
"We are also seeing the consequences of the President’s hasty Afghanistan withdrawal strategy. Afghanistan is at a critical juncture. At the same time we’re focused on the first democratic transition of government and supporting security and stability within the country, this negotiation has legitimized the Taliban – the organization that safeguarded the 9-11 al Qaeda perpetrators and ruled Afghanistan through atrocities.
"Lastly, this transfer sets dangerous precedent for how the President intends to clear out GTMO. The remaining detainees, by the Obama administration’s own analysis, include the most dangerous to U.S. forces and national security interests. In the President’s rush to close GTMO, are other deals in the works to release these dangerous individuals?
"Mr. Secretary, I don’t envy the position you have been put in. We understand the responsibility you bear for signing these transfer agreements, but we’re also aware of the immense pressure the White House has put on you to transfer these detainees so it can claim victory for closing GTMO. Nevertheless, we expect the Department to abide by the law and to provide its candid assessment of national security impacts of the President’s decisions.
"This is a bipartisan committee. Last month we passed our Authorization Act out of committee unanimously and off the floor with well over 300 votes. That kind of bipartisanship is based on trust. Members on this committee trust each other to live up to our word, and when we work with the Department and the White House to pass legislation the President will sign, we have to trust that he will follow those laws.
"The President has broken a bipartisan law and put our troops at greater risk. I’m eager to hear why."
The Honorable Chuck Hagel
Secretary of Defense, U.S. Department of Defense
- Witness Statement
- Witness Biography
The Honorable Stephen Preston
General Counsel, U.S. Department of Defense