Hagel defends “The Swap”

   < < Go Back
from FoxNews,

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel sought to explain and defend the prisoner swap of five Taliban leaders for American Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, during the first public hearing on the controversial trade since it was executed nearly two weeks ago.

In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, Hagel said both he and President Obama were on board with the decision — amid some confusion in Washington over who technically approved the trade.

“I want to make one fundamental point — I would never sign any document or make any agreement … that I did not feel was in the best interests of this country,” Hagel said. “Nor would the president of the United States, who made the final decision with the full support of his national security team.”

Earlier in the week, White House officials stressed that Hagel signed off on the decision without clearly saying who made the final call.

Hagel faced frustrated lawyers as the hearing began. He acknowledged in his opening remarks that “we could have done a better job of keeping you informed.”

The Defense secretary gave a detailed timeline on how the deal, which accelerated in a matter of weeks, came to fruition. He said that after U.S. officials received a “disturbing” video of Bergdahl in January that showed his appearance deteriorating, the Taliban signaled an interest in renewed “indirect talks” in April. On May 12, the U.S. signed an agreement with Qatar on security measures that would be taken if Taliban detainees were transferred there. All sides agreed to the mechanics of an exchange on May 27, after three days of “intensive talks.”

Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., called the trade “deeply troubling” and said his committee has launched a full investigation into the “unprecedented decision.”

“This transfer sets a dangerous precedent in negotiating with terrorists,” McKeon said, adding that it could “incentivize” other terror groups including Al Qaeda to kidnap Americans.

Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., top Democrat on the panel, said those were “appropriate questions.” But he also urged lawmakers to “take a step back” in terms of speculating on the circumstances of Bergdahl’s capture — some of his fellow soldiers have accused him of deserting.

“The way Mr. Bergdahl has been slandered has been scandalous,” Smith said.

The administration is under fire not just over security concerns, but for failing to notify Congress in advance of the deal.

Administration officials have claimed the deal needed to be executed quickly, and that notifying Congress could have jeopardized talks.

More From FoxNews:

Hagel defends Bergdahl swap in first public hearing on trade