US & Canada

Obama 'misled Congress' over Bergdahl swap

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Media captionA video shows Sgt Bowe Bergdahl being handed over to US forces

The Obama administration misled Congress over negotiations to swap five Taliban leaders for Sgt Bowe Bergdahl, congressional Republicans have claimed in a new report.

The report criticises the White House for not providing Congress a legally-mandated 30-day notice ahead of any detainee release, among other claims.

Democrats issued a rebuttal to some of the report's concerns and accusations.

Mr Berghdahl was released in May 2014, after nearly five years in captivity.

On Thursday, the popular podcast Serial launched its second series, which focuses on Mr Bergdahl's story and includes recordings of his first public telling of his experience.

In the interviews, conducted by filmmaker Mark Boal and excerpted in the podcast, he claims that he left his base to create a crisis and highlight poor leadership within his unit.

"What I was seeing, from my first unit all the way up into Afghanistan, all I was seeing was, basically, leadership failure, to the point that the lives of the guys standing next to me were, literally, from what I could see, in danger of something seriously going wrong and somebody being killed," he said.

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Image caption Mr Bergdahl went missing in June 2009 and was the Taliban's only US prisoner of war

Berghdahl's release was initially met with fanfare, but soon became embroiled in controversy amid suspicions that he deserted his post. A welcoming party in his home town was cancelled.

In exchange for his release, the Obama administration transferred five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay to Qatar - who acted as an intermediary in negotiations between the US and the Taliban.

The five men are still in Qatar, and are not allowed to leave the country or engage in militant activities.

The 98-page report reveals previously undisclosed details of the negotiations with Qatari officials.

It states that Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee - who issued the report - do "not have confidence" that the Defense Department has established who is responsible for making sure Qatar holds up its end of the deal.

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Media captionVideo has emerged purporting to show the Taliban prisoners arriving in Qatar
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Media captionMr Obama said "he was never forgotten" shortly after he was released

But it was most critical of the Obama administration for not informing the committee of the "any of the specifics or contemplated courses of action" regarding the Guantanamo transfer and Mr Bergdahl's release.

The report claims that the detainees were informed of their release two days before Congress was notified.

Emails cited in the report illustrate the administration's concerns that leaks to the media could scuttle negotiations, and that the probability of leaks would increase if Congress was notified.

In an eight-page rebuttal, Democrats who sit on the committee rebuked the report's claims that the Pentagon had not taken enough precaution with the Qataris, but agreed that Congress should have been notified. They said the legality of the swap "remains unsettled".

Gary Ross, a Pentagon spokesman, said that the US military "had a near-term opportunity to save Sergeant Bergdahl's life, and we were committed to using every tool at our disposal to secure his safe return".

"We will not transfer any detainee from Guantanamo unless the threat the detainee may pose to the United States or US persons or interests will be substantially mitigated," he said. "We determined that this standard has been satisfied here."

Mr Bergdahl was charged with desertion and misbehaviour before the enemy in March; if convicted, he could face life in prison. His case has since been recommended for a lower military court.