Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) filed a bill that would prohibit Obama from doing anything more with prisoners at Guantanamo Bay until he explains his exchange for Seargent Bowe Bergdahl. Cruz has always had a problem with Obama, and apparently is not above doing something that’s possibly unconstitutional to make Obama look bad.
Some say Obama was in a legal gray area when it came to the prisoner transfer. On the one hand, he has broad authority to do what he wishes with prisoners, as the Commander in Chief of the military. That includes prisoner swaps, transfers, and releases. On the other hand, the 2014 defense authorization act that he signed into law required 30 days of notice to Congress before releasing or transferring GITMO detainees. He did include a signing statement questioning its constitutionality when he signed it. But the Constitution also grants Congress the authority to appropriate funds for the military, and to govern military conduct, but not prisoners. So, there’s often conflict. But in the end, Obama was within his legal authority to do what he did, despite Congress’ 30-day notice requirement.
Republicans once urged Obama to do everything in his power to get Bergdahl back. “Everything in his power” includes prisoner exchanges, per Article II of the Constitution. Now, though, they’re upset that he actually did that, because apparently they didn’t think “everything in his power” actually meant “everything in his power.”
Furthermore, Obama didn’t negotiate with terrorists for Bergdahl’s release. Qatar’s government negotiated the deal. We just helped execute it. Republicans say these people could wind up back on the battlefield, and that’s why Congress wants such tight restrictions on what Obama can do with them.
Of his bill, Cruz specifically said:
“Americans need to know how the Obama Administration thinks it has made our nation safer by negotiating with terrorists to release these five dangerous terrorist leaders. Until President Obama can make his case and convince the American public that this swap was in our national interest, prudence dictates that all further transfers and releases from Guantanamo Bay should be off the table.”
The bill would require Obama to submit a report to Congress that justifies releasing the Taliban 5, and would prohibit any funds for more releases or transfers, for 90 days following that submission, or 180 days after the bill’s enactment. Maybe its temporary nature is what Cruz thinks makes it legal. Cruz says Americans should know how many Americans the Taliban 5 murdered, either directly or indirectly; how many American soldiers died so that these five could be captured; how many Americans the administration thinks are at risk from the “chance” that these guys will return to terrorist activities; and how many soldiers we’ll have to risk in the future to either capture or eliminate them again.
The legality of Cruz’s bill is more in question than what Obama did to get Bergdahl back. He’s trying to usurp Obama’s authority, not put a legitimate check and balance on him.