Lawmakers warn travel ban on Taliban freed for Bergdahl will soon end

Lawmakers warn travel ban on Taliban freed for Bergdahl will soon end
© Getty Images

House Republicans are warning that five former Guantánamo Bay detainees exchanged a year ago for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will soon have their travel ban lifted and could return to the battlefield.

"One year ago, President Obama transferred five senior Taliban terrorists from Guantanamo Bay (GTMO) to Qatar. Unless something changes, those terrorists will be free to return to the fight on Sunday," said Reps. Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryUnnamed law enforcement banned under the new NDAA Lobbying world Senate poised to override Trump's defense bill veto MORE (R-Texas), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Vicky HartzlerVicky Jo HartzlerBiden's self-inflicted crisis Guilfoyle named as national chair of Greitens' Senate campaign in Missouri Greitens Senate bid creates headache for GOP MORE (R-Mo.), chairwoman of the panel's Oversight and Investigation subcommittee, in a statement.  


The administration released the five senior Taliban commanders from Guantánamo almost one year ago in exchange for Bergdahl, who was being held captive.

The detainees were sent to Qatar, to be monitored by the government and banned from traveling for a year. The travel restrictions expire on Sunday, one year after the swap was conducted. 

"On Sunday, the Administration's flimsy restrictions on these terrorists will expire. This will endanger our troops abroad and our families at home," Thornberry and Hartzler warned.

"Congress and the American people are right to be concerned about the increased risk to our Nation’s safety now that these five dangerous men are no longer securely held at GTMO."

Earlier this year, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said one or more of the detainees had met with members of the al Qaeda-affiliated Haqqani network while they were in Qatar, and that he expected them to return to the fight.

Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee earlier this month wrote a letter to President Obama urging him to work with the Qataris to maintain travel restrictions on the former detainees. 

"If, as scheduled, Qatar permits these five former detainees to possess passports and travel to Afghanistan and Pakistan when the [memorandum of understanding] expires on June 1, they will be at liberty to play an even more direct role in attacks against the men and women of our military," the May 13 letter said. 

The administration is reportedly negotiating with Qatar to extend the travel restrictions, but on Wednesday, the White House said it had no changes to announce. 

The House Armed Services Committee is investigating the administration's decision to swap the Taliban for Bergdahl, which angered members of Congress. The administration ignored a law to give Congress advance notice of any detainee release 30 days ahead of time.

Some members also argued the swap put U.S. troops still fighting in Afghanistan at risk, and others criticized the administration for negotiating with terrorists, although the administration said it conducted the exchange through Qatar, not with the Haqqani network that held Bergdahl.

Other lawmakers also criticized the exchange, noting allegations that Bergdahl deserted his post. The 29-year-old soldier has been charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. 

Thornberry and Hartzler said the investigation has been "hampered by the White House and the State Department, which have refused to allow DOD to turn over material critical to the investigation."   

Earlier this month, the House passed a 2016 defense policy bill that would withhold money for the Pentagon unless it turns over emails and other information related to the swap.  

"Our investigation continues, and we hope that we will soon be able to present our findings to the public," they said. "Understanding why and how this came about is the responsibility of the Congress, one we intend to carry out."