Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote a letter to leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees in January 2012, assuring them that the decision to release five former Taliban commanders from Guantanamo Bay would only be made “after consultation with Congress.”
Mrs. Clinton promised the prisoner transfer would follow “all legal requirements,” according to an excerpt of the letter circulated to reporters on Wednesday by the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, who is among a growing number of lawmakers accusing the Obama White House of having skirted federal law by failing to notify Congress ahead of the prisoner release for captured U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl last weekend.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss referred to the Clinton promise in a letter to President Obama on Tuesday, saying Mrs. Clinton’s pledge was “not honored” by administration officials in the deal that freed Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl on May 21.
The Chambliss letter suggests the Clinton State Department had previously coordinated with Congressional leaders on a secretive series of 2012 negotiations with the Taliban.
Tension mounted on Capitol Hill Wednesday over the question of precisely when, along with why, the Obama administration appears to have abandoned the agreement to consult closely with Congress as the Bergdahl deal came together.
The White House has pushed back against critics who say President Obama overstepped his authority by not informing Congress about the deal.
Mr. Chambliss and other Republicans, including House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon of California, have noted that federal law requires the secretary of defense to notify Congress at least 30 days prior to releasing any prisoners from the terrorist detainee site.
Obama administration officials, including National Security Adviser Susan E. Rice, have argued that the White House was justified in skirting the requirement given the circumstances.
“Given the acute urgency of the health condition of Sgt. Bergdahl, and given the president’s constitutional responsibilities, it was determined that it was necessary and appropriate not to adhere to the 30-day notification requirement,” Ms. Rice told CNN on Sunday.
The White House sought to bolster Mrs. Rice’s argument on Tuesday, circulated a statement to reporters, insisting that the Bergdahl case represented a “unique set of circumstances” that overrode the 30-day notification requirement.
Mr. Chambliss took issue with that argument in his letter to the president.
“Despite several requests, I have not seen any evidence of a danger so urgent as to preclude the required notification,” the Georgia Republican wrote.
Further, Mr. Chambliss called on President Obama to “declassify additional intelligence related to the five Afghan nationals,” who were released from Guantanamo.
Among the five are Abdel Haq Wasiq, former deputy chief of intelligence for the Taliban, and Mullah Mohammad Fazl, a former top Taliban military commander accused of overseeing the massacre of thousands of Afghans prior to the 2001 U.S.-led invasion. The three others are Khair Ulla Said Wali Khairkhwa, who served as interior minister under the Taliban and has been held at Guantanamo since 2002, and Mullah Norullah Noori and Mohammad Nabi Omari, both accused of playing regional roles for the Taliban.
“Since 2011, I have opposed this transfer because of the threat these detainees pose,” Mr. Chambliss wrote.
He added, “In order to fully evaluate the validity of this transfer and decide for themselves, the American people should be afforded the opportunity to see as much of this intelligence as possible.”
• Guy Taylor can be reached at email@example.com.
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