WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is telling Congress that Qatar officials negotiating the release of captured Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl told the U.S. that "time was not on our side" and a leak about the exchange would end the deal.
Hagel says the decision to transfer five Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detainees into Qatar's hands in exchange for Bergdahl was a tough call for President Barack Obama. He says the five were "enemy belligerents" but had not been implicated in any attacks against the U.S.
“I would never sign off on any decision that I did not feel was in the best interests of this country,” Mr. Hagel says during his testimony before the House Armed Services Committee Wednesday. “Nor would the President of the United States, who made the final decision with the full support of his national security team.”
He says Qatar has committed to adequate security measures that led him to decide the risks of the transfer were substantially mitigated.
Members of Congress from both parties have blasted the administration for not giving lawmakers advance notice of the detainee transfer.
“As Secretary of Defense, I have the authority and responsibility to determine whether detainees at Guantanamo Bay can be transferred to the custody of another country,” Hagel says. “I take that responsibility damn seriously, damn seriously, as seriously as any responsibility I have.”