WASHINGTON - The Pentagon broke the law when it swapped Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, a prisoner in Afghanistan for five years, for five Taliban leaders, congressional investigators said today.
The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office said the Defense Department failed to notify the relevant congressional committees at least 30 days in advance of the exchange - a clear violation of the law - and used $988,400 of a wartime account to make the transfer. The GAO also said the Pentagon's use of funds that hadn't been expressly appropriated violated the Antideficiency Act.
"In our view, the meaning of the (law) is clear and unambiguous," the GAO wrote to nine Republican senators, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and various committees. "Section 8111 prohibits the use of funds appropriated or otherwise made available' in the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2014, to transfer any individual detained at Guantanamo Bay to the custody or control of a foreign entity' except in accordance" with the law.
The GAO said the relevant committees received phone calls from May 31 - the day of the transfer - to June 1, with written notification coming on June 2.
Five senior Taliban were released from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo in exchange for Bergdahl, who had disappeared from his post in Paktika province in eastern Afghanistan on June 30, 2009. The five Taliban are to remain in Qatar for a year.
Spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby defended the Pentagon's actions, saying that as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel stated in his congressional testimony earlier this year, the Defense Department "acted lawfully in the operation to recover Sgt. Bergdahl, a judgment that was supported by the Justice Department."