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Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel gave a heroic performance in front of the House Armed Ankle Biters Services Committee on Wednesday but coverage of it was crowded out by news of Eric Cantor’s defeat at the polls. Hagel deserves to be heard.
As much as the Republicans tried to make Hagel say what they wanted to hear, he was determined to say what they needed to hear.
The substance of the hearing centered on three grievances the Republicans tried to prosecute:
The exchange of 5 Guantanamo detainees violated a statutory 30-day advance notice requirement which left Congress uninformed about the plan.
The prisoner exchange established a dangerous precedent of negotiating with terrorists.
The deal would increase the risks faced by the US military and civilians overseas.
It only took Hagel about 3 minutes to dismiss all of the charges and remind the committee members about the prior occasions when they had been briefed.
Hagel reviewed the timeline of events from 2011 forward:
Congress was briefed in November 2011 and January 2012 about talks conducted by the Obama administration with the Taliban about a detainee exchange involving the five Guantanamo detainees who were ultimately transferred after the release of Sgt. Bergdahl.
The talks were broken off by the Taliban in March 2012 and there were no further talks with them.
In September 2013, the Government of Qatar offered to serve as an intermediary, between the US and the captors who were holding Bergdahl.
A proof-of-life video showed Bergdahl in deteriorating condition but the mediation through Qatar was suspended by the other side.
In May Qatar notified the US that a deal was possible immediately based on the terms offered in previous negotiations.
On May 12 intensified discussions with Qatar finalized an understanding about the mechanics of the exchange which the US wouldn’t do without the guarantees it wanted
It wasn’t known until the final hours before Bergdahl was released whether the plan would be carried out.
Hagel was thorough.
His documentation showed that the administration complied with the NDAA provisions that require a risk assessment and mitigation, as well as consideration of national security interests.
The commitment to recover all military personnel held captive was upheld.
The precedent of past wartime prisoner exchanges was continued.
The plan that was executed was consistent with the previous congressional briefings the administration provided in 2011 and 2012, reflecting its intent to conduct a transfer of this kind including the same 5 detainees.
Buck McKeon the Republican who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, seemed to understand that he doesn’t even belong in the same room with Hagel. He waved his rulebook but he left the attacks to the barbarians in his party. They made it clear that they’ll continue to tell the story they want to tell and they may try to pass a resolution condemning the President. At times, Hagel’s face was priceless. when he spoke to set the story straight it was clear he wasn’t going to back down even a centimeter. Bravo.
Of the Democrats on the committee, Jackie Speier, who represents California’s 14 District followed Hagel’s example and she also said something that needed to be said.