On Friday, a Republican congressman implied that the Obama administration’s decision to swap five Taliban officials for the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl without notifying Congress in May emboldened terrorist organizations and may have contributed to the beheading of journalist James Foley.
Rep. Trent Franks’ (R-AZ) comments, delivered on Fox News, come a day after the Government Accountability Office concluded that Obama violated the law when he failed to give Congress 30 days notice that he had secured Bergdahl’s release in exchange for the transfer of prisoners from Guantanamo Bay.
“[T]o somehow signal to terrorists that all they have to do to bring America to its knees is to kidnap one of our own, and hold them for ransom, it is a signal to the whole jihadist world, to go out and do it again and it is extremely dangerous,” Franks said, responding to the report. He added, “I don’t want to say anything politically to exacerbate the tragedy with the James Foley but I’m afraid James Foley is an example of that in his family and friends are feeling the tragedy more than anybody else could possibly imagine.” Foley, who had gone missing more than a year before Bergdahl was released, was beheaded by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) earlier this week.
The Pentagon defended the transfer on Thursday, insisting the prisoner swap to recover Bergdahl was conducted lawfully after consultations with the Justice Department.
“The administration had a fleeting opportunity to protect the life of a U.S. service member held captive and in danger for almost five years,” said Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary. The Defense Department insists that the prisoner exchange was authorized under a section of the law that “allows transfers of Guantanamo prisoners if actions are being taken to reduce the risk that they will re-engage in hostile activity.” Under the terms of the agreement, the Taliban prisoners will remain in to Qatari custody for at least a year.
ISIS had demanded $100 million for Foley’s release but the United States refused, citing a longstanding policy of not negotiation with terrorists. This policy is what makes Frank’s comments all the more confused, as the Berghdal swap was the transfer of military prisoners, while Foley was a civilian hostage kidnapped while reporting in Syria. Earlier this week, the administration disclosed that it had launched a secret mission to attempt to rescue Foley and other American hostages, but they had been moved to another location.
Since August 8, the military has carried out at least 90 airstrikes against the organization and may soon expand its operations. During a press conference on Thursday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey characterized the ISIS threat as greater than anything America has faced in the past and admitted that the nation must do more to contain it. “We’re looking at all options,” Hagel said. Earlier this week, President Obama vowed that the United States “will continue to do what we must do to protect our people.” “We will be vigilant and we will be relentless,” he said.
But Franks rejected this policy on Friday. “I’m afraid we sent the message to the terrorists, again, that this president will vacillate and not do what is necessary in times of crisis,” he said. “It just brings a smell of fear to their nostrils and they are, are supercharged in this terrorist mindset and it is something that we have to get ahold of as a people.”