Rep. Mac Thornberry’s draft of the annual defense authorization bill released Monday would withhold a portion of Defense Department funding until the administration answers questions about the prisoner swap of Guantanamo Bay detainees in exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
The mark from the Texas Republican and chair of the House Armed Services Committee contains nine sections that would extend restrictions on Guantanamo Bay transfers or implement additional reporting requirements to understand how often detainees are joining terrorist groups after being released.
The restrictions on the release of Guantanamo Bay detainees would extend for the remainder of President Obama’s term, effectively squashing his campaign promise to close the prison if passed.
The draft bill requests documents relating to the administration’s transfer of five Gitmo detainees to Qatar in May 2014 in exchange for the release of Sgt. Bergdahl, a former al Qaeda prisoner who has been charged with leaving his post in Afghanistan. Sgt. Bergdahl is currently awaiting an Article 32 hearing on charges of desertion, set for July in San Antonio.
The transfer occurred without the required 30-day notification of Congress, angering many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. It was also reported that at least one of the detainees in the swap had already returned to terrorism in January.
The bill requests the administration provide correspondence between the Defense Department, Justice Department and other government agencies leading up to the swap.
“Since the Department of Defense has failed to comply with the committee’s requests, this section would prohibit the obligation or expenditure of 25 percent of the funds authorized to be appropriated or otherwise made available for the Office of the Secretary of Defense for fiscal year 2016 until the submission of all required correspondence,” the bill says.
The bill is asking specifically for documents relating to the prisoner swap between Jan. 1, 2013, and June 1, 2014. The government would have 30 days from the passage of the bill to provide the documents, including, specifically, an email exchange described in congressional testimony last summer.
The bill also asks for unredacted copies of documents related to the prisoner swap to be provided to the House Armed Services Committee and threatens to withhold a portion of funds if the administration does not comply.
The administration has said there was not time to notify Congress in the urgent prisoner swap that was necessary for Sgt. Bergdahl’s health and safety. Since then, the president has complied with the notification requirements but has kept up a high rate of releases, transferring 22 detainees in the last two months of 2014 and six so far this year, according to New York Times data.
“The committee also has concerns regarding the department’s recent actions related to the transfer of other detainees from Guantanamo Bay and the implications for U.S. national security,” the bill says.
The bill would prohibit the government from transferring any detainees to countries where other prisoners have returned to terrorism after their release. It would also prevent the government from releasing any detainees to combat zones.
The chairman’s mark would also create two new reports on Guantanamo Bay prisoners — one on all contact between released detainees and individuals associated with terrorist groups, and a second quarterly report on the amount of time that elapsed between a prisoner’s release and his return to terrorism.
The chairman’s mark is the draft of the annual defense authorization bill that touches every part of the military. The full House Armed Services Committee will debate Mr. Thornberry’s draft and make changes to it on Wednesday. The Senate Armed Services Committee will also mark up a version of the annual defense policy bill, but that debate will be closed to reporters.
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