Bergdahl was in Haqqani network custody
The United States released and flew to Qatar five senior former Taliban commanders from Guantanamo Bay prison last week to win the release of Bergdahl, the only US prisoner of war in Afghanistan.
“The Haqqani Network is a terrorist organization which operates in Pakistan’s tribal areas. They're the ones who had Bergdahl in custody, not the Taliban, not the Qataris and not the Afghans,” Congressman Mike Rogers, Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee of Intelligence told the MSNBC news in an interview.
The Pentagon has neither confirmed nor denied Rogers’s claims. “We received him (Sgt. Bergdahl) from the Taliban on the ground,” Pentagon spokesperson Col Steve Warren told reporters during an off-camera news conference.
US lawmakers have raised concerns for the released Taliban men, who they feared will make a beeline to the battlefield. Several top American officials in the past have alleged that the Haqqani network maintained close links with Pakistan spy service Inter-Services Intelligence or ISI), a charge Islamabad denies.
“The Haqqani network is a terrorist organization, so you negotiated with a terrorist group, which is yet to stop or cease hostilities and will continue long after even 2016. And that's my concern,” the Republican lawmaker said.
In an interview to CNN, Republican Senator John McCain said there was overwhelming evidence and testimony that Bergdahl had left with his own free will and that would be the subject of investigation.
“That does not mean he shouldn't have been brought home. The problem I have and many others have is the price we paid for the release,” he said.
“The fact that within a very short time, if the past proves true, they'll be back in the battlefield putting the lives of Americans in danger in the future. That's what most of us find incomprehensible, that the Taliban should be allowed to pick the dream team, as my friend Lindsey Graham called it, and sent them to Qatar. And obviously, they will back in the fight,” McCain said.
Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said questions about Sgt Bergdahl’s conduct were separate from effort to recover any US service member from enemy’s captivity.
“This was likely the last, best opportunity to free him. As for the circumstances of his capture, when he is able to provide them, we’ll learn the facts. Like any American, he is innocent until proven guilty,” Dempsey wrote his Facebook page.
“Our Army’s leaders will not look away from misconduct if it occurred. In the meantime, we will continue to care for him and his family. Finally, I want to thank those who for almost five years worked to find him, prepared to rescue him, and ultimately put themselves at risk to recover him," Dempsey said.
President Barack Obama on Tuesday defended the prisoner swap to free Bergdahl, saying his "sacred" trust as commander-in-chief outweighed claims he broke the law and set a dangerous precedent.
Obama is facing rising questions about the deal to secure the release of Bergdahl in return for the transfer of five Taliban prisoners.
At a press conference in Poland, Obama was unrepentant, as the White House issued a new legal justification for his action.
"The United States has always had a pretty sacred rule. That is we don't leave our men or women in uniform behind," Obama said.
US lawmakers have complained that they were not given the 30 days notice required by law ahead of prisoners being transferred out of the war on terror camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"The process was truncated because we wanted to make sure that we did not miss that window," Obama said.
Obama said Qatar had set up a process to monitor the released Islamist prisoners and that the United States would be "keeping eyes on them."
But he admitted it was possible that some of them could return to activity "detrimental" to the United States. "I would not be doing it if I thought it was contrary to American national security," Obama said.
Obama's National Security Council defended the legal justification for the swap. NSC spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel had used his power under US law to transfer prisoners from Guantanamo after ruling that doing so would enhance US national security.
Hagel also determined that offering the full 30-day notice to Congress "could endanger the soldier's life," she said.
Bergdahl arrived Sunday at the US military medical centre in Landstuhl, Germany where he is undergoing medical treatment.
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