A State Department spokeswoman admitted to reporters that President Obama’s team had no specific information suggesting that Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl’s life would be in danger if news of the recent prisoner swap went public before the exchange took place, even though the Obama team has cited the danger to Bergdahl as a reason for declining to give Congress the legally required advance notice.
“There were real concerns that if this were made public first, his physical security could be in danger more by either the Taliban walking away or about an individual Taliban member who perhaps was guarding him – again, I’m speaking generally, not in reference to any specific piece of information – but someone guarding him that possibly wouldn’t agree and could take harmful action against him,” spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters Thursday.
Harf’s public statement seems to contradict the claim made by an anonymous administration official “that we had both specific and general indications that Sgt. Bergdahl ’s recovery — and potentially his life — could be jeopardized if the detainee exchange proceedings were disclosed or derailed,” as reported in the Associated Press. She also reiterated the administration’s explanation that a proof-of-life video suggested that Bergdahl’s health was declining.
Harf said that it’s “absolutely accurate” for a reporter to say “that there was a threat against [Bergdahl's] physical security,” but the only specific basis for that danger she noted is the general problem of his being in Taliban captivity. “I mean, you’re being held by – captive by the Taliban; I think that should go without saying,” she said.
Senate Intelligence Committee vice chairman Saxby Chambliss (R., Ga.) told reporters that he would have “raised holy hell” about releasing the Taliban leaders if Obama had notified Congress in advance, as a congressional statute requires. “Absolutely,” he said. “I did last time and I would again.”
Chambliss wasn’t the only one to oppose releasing the Taliban Five. Then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also opposed the exchange when it was floated during his tenure. “If I send prisoners from Guantanamo, they have to guarantee they don’t go back to the battlefield,” Panetta said Wednesday. ”I had serious concerns.”