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As I serve America’s First District in Congress, I take very seriously my constitutional duty, laid out in Article 1, Section 8, that we provide for the common defense of this nation. Connected directly to that is the oversight role Congress plays over the Administration’s foreign policy decisions. There has been considerable attention given to the recent prisoner exchange involving Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, in which five Taliban leaders were released from the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. I have had deep concerns with the manner in which this release was conducted, especially in light of the fact that the Administration chose not to notify Congress until after the release was made – in direct violation of a law the President himself signed requiring him to notify Congress at least 30 days prior to such an action.
This past Wednesday, the House Armed Services Committee heard testimony from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on this release. Despite the Secretary’s testimony, I am still unconvinced by the Administration’s assessment of the likelihood of these individuals returning to the battlefield, and the degree to which they remain a threat to our national security. When I was Chairman of the Armed Services Committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, I conducted a study on the recidivism rates for detainees released from Guantanamo Bay to determine the likelihood of them re-entering the fight against the United States and our allies. At the time, the study found that 27 percent of these detainees return to the battlefield after being released. We simply cannot forget that our nation remains at war in Afghanistan, and that our servicemen and women are still at risk.
These five detainees will be under a one-year supervision period in Qatar. I am concerned about the unknown quality of enforcement of the government of Qatar, as transferring detainees there has proven unsuccessful in the past. During the Armed Services Committee hearing on Wednesday, I asked simply, “What happens to these detainees after a year?” The answer is clearly not that simple. The intelligence we currently have on these individuals – and the data on the chances of them returning to the battlefield – indicate significant, unjustifiable risk. If even one death of an American is linked to this detainee release, it will be an enormous and unprecedented policy failure, and the responsibility and accountability for that will fall solely on the President’s shoulders.
This is a serious issue with significant ramifications for our national security, and substantial implications for future foreign policy decisions. I am fully committed to continuing to press the Administration on its rationale behind releasing the five detainees and their plans to ensure that these dangerous individuals do not target Americans, and, as always, I remain committed to conducting the oversight role that is my constitutional duty. You can view the video of me questioning Secretary Hagel here.
The main streets of Virginia’s First District are full of ideas to get our economy back on track, and your feedback is critically important to me as I serve you. I can be reached by telephone at (202) 225-4261, through my website (www.wittman.house.gov), on Facebook (www.facebook.com/reprobwittman), and via Twitter (www.twitter.com/robwittman).
Congressman Rob Wittman represents the First District of Virginia. He serves on the House Natural Resources Committee and the House Armed Services Committee where he is the Chairman of the Readiness Subcommittee.