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GOP lawmaker: US military tried to pay ransom for Bergdahl

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) said Wednesday that sources have told him the U.S. military unsuccessfully tried to pay a ransom for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, despite repeated denials. 

In a Nov. 5 letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Hunter wrote "it has been brought to my attention that a payment was made to an Afghan intermediary who 'disappeared' with the money and failed to facilitate Bergdahl's release in return."

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Hunter said "according to sources" that the payment was made between January and February 2014 through Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), whose activities are mostly classified. 

Hunter said he recognized the "reluctance to describe the payment as a ransom" and that the allegations of an unsuccessful payment is supported by JSOC's pursuit of at least two lines of effort to get Bergdahl back — through a military rescue operation and payment to his suspected captors and terrorist group the Haqqani Network.

Hunter did not identify his sources. 

In his letter, Hunter asked Hagel to "immediately inquire with JSOC to determine the specific order of events" and to "confirm whether a payment of any kind was considered and/or paid." 

He also asked Hagel to confirm whether the same consideration, for others in captivity, is still being given by JSOC. 

If the allegations are true, it could contradict a longstanding U.S. policy not to pay ransom for hostages. 

It could also contradict the advice U.S. officials gave to the family of slain journalist James Foley to not pay ransom to Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militants who later beheaded him. 

The Pentagon reiterated its denial Wednesday that any cash was paid to secure Bergdahl's release, according to The Wall Street Journal. 

Bergdahl disappeared from his post in eastern Afghanistan in 2009 and was subsequently captured by the Taliban and held in captivity until May 2014, when the Obama administration swapped him for five senior Taliban commanders being held at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility. 

The exchange was made in secrecy, ignoring a law to inform members of Congress 30 days ahead of any detainee transfer — angering both Republicans and Democrats. Critics said the swap violated U.S. policy not to negotiate with terrorists, endangered U.S. troops still serving in Afghanistan and encouraged the capture of other U.S. personnel. 

The administration said it kept the swap secret because a leak might have jeopardized a deal and the lives of Bergdahl and others, and interfered with the president's constitutional authority to protect U.S. citizens abroad. The administration also argued it negotiated the swap through Qatar, not directly with Bergdahl's captors. 

The five released Taliban commanders are being held in Qatar for a year, but some news reports say some have already met with family members who are also Taliban operatives. 

Bergdahl's disappearance is currently being investigated by the Army. Troops who served with Bergdahl say the 28-year-old sergeant deserted his post. If Bergdahl is found by the Army to have deserted or have been away without leave, he could be punished under military law, and forfeit wages accrued during captivity. 

Bergdahl is currently on active duty at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, but assigned to a desk job. 

The House Armed Services Committee is also investigating the administration's decision to conduct the swap. The inquiry is due to conclude by early December, according to The Wall Street Journal. 

Senate Republicans, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who is slated to become the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has also called for an investigation into the matter.