WASHINGTON • Both of Idaho's U.S. senators left Wednesday night's classified briefing on Bowe Bergdahl's release expressing concerns about the five freed Taliban prisoners and the lack of congressional notification before the swap.
"I continue to be very glad that Bowe Bergdahl was released," said U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho.
But Crapo said he’s worried about the five Taliban men who were released. All five were classified as high-risk in Guantanamo Bay records.
"I believe that is a problem … that could potentially result in a problem for our national security," Crapo said.
Sgt. Bergdahl, a native of Hailey, Idaho, spent five years as a prisoner in Afghanistan of the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network before his release Saturday. Under terms of the deal, the five Taliban prisoners are to spend the next year in Qatar, the country that acted as a go-between for the U.S. and the Taliban.
Crapo also said the Obama administration broke the law by not giving Congress the 30 days' notice required before freeing any prisoners from Guantanamo Bay.
The administration has told senators it didn't notify Congress because the Taliban had threatened to kill Bergdahl if the deal was made public. Officials also have said they needed to act quickly because Bergdahl's health was declining.
Crapo argued that Obama should have given the relevant committee leaders as much notice as possible.
"One of the reasons for that notification is so members of Congress can weigh in on the proposed release of prisoners from Guantanamo," he said.
U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, sounded a similar note after the briefing, says a KTVB report from Boise. Risch told the TV station he’s glad Bergdahl was freed, but he thinks the administration broke the law by not notifying Congress and he disagrees with freeing the five prisoners.
U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, gave a radio interview Tuesday criticizing some members of his own party for their attempts to cast the prisoner swap as something unprecedented. The war in Afghanistan is winding down, he said, and such exchanges are the norm after any war.
"I would suggest that anyone who is being hyper-critical about this, that they look at the history that this has happened before,” Labrador told Boise’s 670 KBOI. “I am more concerned that the president might have violated the law by not talking to us in Congress."
Labrador also said people should stop criticizing Bergdahl’s family. The POW’s father, Bob, has come under fire from some in the national conservative media for, among other things, the beard he grew while his son was a prisoner and for speaking some Arabic and Pashto at the White House news conference where Obama announced Bergdahl’s release. Bob Bergdahl has said he grew the beard to commemorate his son’s captivity, and he studied Pashto and Afghanistan to better understand the place his son was held and to possibly help get him released.
Bergdahl is recovering at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. Army Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman, told the Associated Press Thursday that Bergdahl's health is improving daily, and he is resting more comfortably and becoming more involved in treatment to ease his return to the U.S.
Warren said Bergdahl is conversing with staff at Landstuhl, but he declined to reveal specifics about Bergdahl's condition or what he has said or done since regaining freedom. Warren said no date is set for Bergdahl’s first phone call to his family in Idaho or his transfer to an Army hospital in Texas.
A few of the men who served with Bergdahl have said he walked away from his post, and six men died while searching for him. A classified Army report in 2010 concluded that he likely walked away voluntarily, people briefed on it have told the Associated Press.
The Pentagon has not confirmed any of this but has said Bergdahl’s capture will be thoroughly reviewed after his health improves.
Crapo said he thinks Congress should review what happened, too.
"I fully expect that the Army and the Department of Defense will do a full investigation into the circumstances of both his capture and his release," Crapo said. "I also expect there will be congressional reviews and investigations as well, and I think that's entirely appropriate."
Labrador said questions need to be answered, but he urged people to set them aside for the time being.
“I think now is the time for us to all share in the joy of the family and the city of Hailey and the state,” he said.