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White House apologizes to lawmakers over secret POW swap

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The Obama administration apologized for keeping lawmakers in the dark regarding the swap of an American POW for five Taliban fighters, senior senators said Tuesday ahead of a classified briefing on the growing controversy.

Asked whether the White House was correct when stating it kept key lawmakers in the loop on the exchange that saw captured soldier Bowe Bergdahl released to US special forces last weekend, Senator Saxby Chambliss, the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee said that "the White House is wrong about that.

He said it has been 18 months since the White House discussed the Bergdahl case with him.

"If that's keeping us in the loop, then this administration is more arrogant than I thought they were."

Amid growing concern by Republicans and Democrats over the swap, Chambliss said a "high-level" White House official called him late Monday "apologizing for not giving us advance warning."

Senate Intelligence Committee's chair Diane Feinstein expressed similar disappointment at not having been told in advance about the swap.

She said National Deputy Security Advisor Tony Blinken called her Monday night.

"He apologized for it and said it was an oversight," Feinstein said, according to National Journal.

Lawmakers have pounced on President Barack Obama, saying he violated US law by not giving Congress 30 days notice before releasing any detainee at the Guantanamo Bay military prison.

Senate Democrat Carl Levin noted that the president put Congress "on notice" when he issued a signing statement last December saying he has constitutional authority to move quickly on detainees.

But fellow Democratic Senator Joe Manchin called the affair "very disturbing," and said he looked forward to a classified briefing for the 100-member Senate Wednesday addressing details of the swap.

Chambliss acknowledged that while "you can't undo what the president has done," the release of five hardened Taliban fighters to Qatar, where they are to be held for one year before they can return to Afghanistan, is a black mark on US policy.

"I think the long-term potential for damage is enormous," Chambliss said.

The controversy puts lawmakers in a tricky spot. Cognizant of the American military code of leaving no soldier behind, they are in agreement that securing Bergdahl's release after five years in Taliban captivity was admirable.

But lawmakers have blasted the swap for appearing to violate the principal of not negotiating with terrorists.

"We're certainly happy for Bergdahl and his family," Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Robert Menendez told reporters.

"But... I am concerned about what precedents we set here for exchanges, because I don't want the message to be, you can go ahead and capture Americans and use them to barter for others."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/140603/white-house-apologizes-lawmakers-over-secret-pow-swap