House Passes Ribble, Rigell, Barrow, Rahall Resolution to Hold President Accountable; Condemns Unlawful Transfer of Five Taliban Leaders

Sep 9, 2014 Issues: Defense, National Security

Washington, D.C. - In response to the Administration’s failure to comply with federal law, the House of Representatives today condemned the Obama Administration’s unlawful exchange of five senior Taliban leaders and expressed grave concern over the prisoner exchange's national security and foreign policy implications, noting that negotiations with terrorists may further encourage hostilities and the abduction of Americans. H. Res. 644, bipartisan legislation introduced by Representatives Reid Ribble (WI-08), Scott Rigell (VA-02), John Barrow (GA-12, and Nick Rahall (WV-3) holds the Adminsitration accountable for violating a lawful requirement that Congress be notified at least 30 days before the transfer of Guantanamo Bay detainees. The resolution passed in the House 249 to 163 and serves as the official repudiation of the Obama Administration’s actions.
 
“The President ignored the law by failing to notify Congress of this serious decision. Are we in turn supposed to just ignore this fact? Thirty day notification is not a perfunctory administrative action; it is not like breaking a lease with your landlord. The law exists to provide Congress time to consider serious national security decisions such as releasing terrorists like the Taliban five,” said Rigell, who noted that Mohammad Fazl, the Taliban Deputy Minister of Defense, was among those released in the exchange. “The violation prevented Congress from fulfilling its vital oversight duties on national security matters. Congress was not given an opportunity to assess the risks to U.S. national security presented by the transfer, the security assurances from Qatar before the transfer took place, or the credibility of the negotiating process.”
 
Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution expressly gives the Congress the authority to "make rules concerning captures on land and water.” Additionally, Section 1035 of the Fiscal Year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act requires the President to notify Congress no later than 30 days before the transfer or release of any detainees from Guantanamo Bay.
 
“Our resolution before Congress today was about President Obama knowingly breaking the law when he chose not to inform Congress about this important transfer, and the U.S. Government Accountability Office has confirmed that he did indeed break the law. No President – regardless of party – is above our nation’s laws, and that is why today’s bipartisan vote was so important,” said Congressman Reid Ribble.
 
“This Administration has an obligation under the law to work with Congress on issues that relate to our national security,” said Congressman Barrow. “The President failed to notify Congress of his intent to transfer five high priority detainees from Guantanamo Bay, and more importantly, he abandoned our long-standing policy of not negotiating with terrorists. This transfer poses a major national security risk, and it complicates our efforts to combat terrorism worldwide. The President cannot treat Congress as an afterthought or adversary, particularly with decisions impacting our national security and especially since, in this case, Congress could have helped the President get this decision right.”
 
“The law applies to the President and Executive Branch officials just like it does to all citizens of the United States. To allow any President to ignore the plain reading of the law without a Congressional response invites political abuse - not just by this administration but also by all that follow it,” said Congressman Rahall.
 
In June, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel testified before the House Armed Services Committee that negotiations to transfer these five Taliban detainees had been ongoing for months and the Administration made a conscious decision not to consult Congress. Administration officials further stipulated in a briefing to Members of the House of Representatives that 80-90 executive branch officials had advanced knowledge of the transfer negotiations.
 
The Government Accountability Office released a report in August confirming that the Department of Defense violated the FY14 Defense Appropriations Act by failing to inform lawmakers about its plan to transfer prisoners from Guantanamo Bay in a controversial deal to secure the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
 
"This bipartisan resolution is an important legal marker in our efforts to push back on executive overreach," Rigell continued. "Congress is not a potted plant in the national security and foreign policy process. The President's track record is not good in this area, and this is not the king's army. Today the House reminded the President of this."
 
More than 90 Members of the House signed on to cosponsor Rigell's legislation, including original co-sponsors Republican Reid Ribble (WI-08) and Democrats John Barrow (GA-12) and Nick Rahall (WV-03).

FACTS surrounding the President's unlawful prisoner swap courtesy of the House Armed Services Committee:

FACT: Section 8111 of the FY2014 Defense Appropriations Act was a reinforcement of the FY2014 NDAA

The transfer of the Taliban Five was in violation of Section 1035 of the Fiscal Year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (FY2014 NDAA) which requires the President to notify Congress not later than 30 days before the transfer or release of any terrorist detainees from Guantanamo Bay takes place.

FACT: The Constitution gives Congress power over detentions

Article One, Section Eight of the U.S. Constitution expressly gives the Congress the authority to "make rules concerning captures on land and water."

FACT: The Administration could have notified Congress but chose not to

The Administration had ample opportunity to notify Congress of the transfer while remaining in compliance with the law and preserving operational security. The Secretary of Defense testified that negotiations to transfer these five Taliban detainees had been ongoing for months and the Administration made a conscious decision not to consult Congress.

FACT: The violation of the 30-day notice requirement has significant consequences

The violation prevented Congress from fulfilling its vital oversight duties on national security matters. Congress was not given an opportunity to assess the risks to U.S. national security presented by the transfer, the security assurances from Qatar before the transfer took place, or the credibility of the negotiating process.

FACT: The Administration Negotiated With Terrorists in Connection With the Taliban Five Exchange

Negotiations through intermediaries are still negotiations with terrorists. In this case, the United States negotiated through intermediaries in Qatar. Both the Haqqani Network and the Taliban are designated as terrorist organizations by the U.S. government. Violation of the 30 day notice law prevented Congress from evaluating the negotiation process and the repercussions of negotiating with terrorists.

FACT: The Taliban Five Detainees Pose a Risk to America’s Security

These Taliban leaders have had associations with al-Qaeda or have engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, and have previously been determined to be too dangerous to transfer.

FACT: There is a Clear Danger that the Taliban Five Will Re-enter the Fight Against the U.S. or our Afghan Allies.

The Taliban Five will be free to leave Qatar in less than a year. By the President’s own admission, there is “absolutely” the “possibility” that these detainees would try to return to the fight. Other transferred GTMO detainees have become leaders of al Qaeda associated groups actively planning attacks against America and our allies. 

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