The Taliban threatened to kill Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl if any details about the imminent prisoner swap that freed him leaked to the press, according to officials familiar with the proceedings.
Senators were told of the Taliban threat at a closed-door briefing about the prisoner swap on Wednesday, a Senate aide familiar with the meeting told Business Insider.
“Senators were informed at the briefing yesterday that the U.S. obtained credible information that, if anything about the swap became public, Bergdahl would be killed,” the Senate aide said.
A senior administration official confirmed the White House told senators that there were both “specific and general indications” Bergdahl’s recuperation from a decline in health — and potentially his life — could be jeopardized if negotiations were disclosed.
Caitlin Hayden, a spokesperson for the White House’s National Security Council, told Business Insider earlier Thursday the administration believed his life was at risk every day he was a prisoner.
“We’re not going to comment on the details of our discussions with the Qataris. Our judgment is that every day Sgt. Bergdahl was a prisoner his life was at risk, and in the video we received in January, he did not look well,” Hayden said. “So when presented with a near-term opportunity to recover Sergeant Bergdahl and save his life, the President chose to act.”
Hayden also pointed to a statement from Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who defended the deal as the “last, best opportunity” to free Bergdahl.
The Obama administration has come under fire from members of Congress who have accused him of breaking the law with the swap, which saw five prisoners from Guantanamo Bay released in exchange for Bergdahl. Critics have noted the deal did not feature a 30-day notice of Congress required when prisoners are released from Guantanamo Bay. T
he 2013 version of the National Defence Authorization Act that says Congress must be notified of releases from Guantanamo Bay “not later than 30 days before the transfer or release of the individual.”
The administration, however, has frequently said Bergdahl’s life was in danger, requiring immediate action from the president. Hayden said in a statement Tuesday that Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel, acting on behalf of the president, determined the normal notification process could endanger Bergdahl’s life.
“In these circumstances, delaying the transfer in order to provide the 30-day notice would interfere with the Executive’s performance of two related functions that the Constitution assigns to the President: protecting the lives of Americans abroad and protecting U.S. soldiers,” Hayden said. “Because such interference would significantly alter the balance between Congress and the President, and could even raise constitutional concerns, we believe it is fair to conclude that Congress did not intend that the Administration would be barred from taking the action it did in these circumstances.”
This post was updated at 2:41 p.m. ET.
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