WASHINGTON – The congressman gave the distinct impression he didn't believe President Obama wasn't telling him, or the American people, the truth.
Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, told WND Obama probably did pay a ransom to terrorists for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, contrary to what the president has said.
The congressman based that claim on an exchange of letters with the administration, including a reply from the White House that was so carefully worded, Stockman said, it appeared to confirm his suspicions.
And, the congressman told WND, he wouldn't be surprised if the administration paid millions of dollars to a terrorist group to free Bergdahl.
After disappearing from his unit in Afghanistan on June 23, 2009, Bergdahl ended up in the hands of a terrorist group called the Haqqani Network.
On May 31, Bergdahl was returned to American forces and Obama sent the top five Taliban commanders held at Guantanamo to Qatar.
It would be a violation of U.S. policy to pay a ransom to a terrorist group, but the reason Stockman thought it worth asking was because the Haqqani is particularly known for collecting ransoms for hostages, and it's not known to have ever released a hostage without obtaining a ransom.
Stockman's letter to Obama on June 5, asked, "Did you or anyone authorized by or associated with your administration, authorize any form of compensation, direct or third party, in exchange for Bergdahl?"
Obama did not respond directly to Stockman, but on June 13, the White House did issue a response to his letter, in the form of a statement from National Security Staff spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden.
However, Stockman noted the letter's wording was suspiciously careful.
It stated, “The United States did not provide money in return for Sgt. Bergdahl."
"That is not the question I asked," noted Stockman. "This response is oddly worded and seems intentionally evasive."
The congressman reiterated he had asked if the White House authorized “any form of compensation, direct or third party,” and that limiting the response to money from the U.S. was only a partial answer.
"The idea the U.S. government would implicate itself by directly issuing a payment to a terrorist group is highly unlikely, which is why I directly included third parties," said the Texan.
Given Obama's evasive response to the letter, WND asked Stockman, "Is it fair to conclude the U.S. paid some kind of ransom for Bergdahl?"
The congressman noted that, given the way Obama had parsed his words, "We can pretty much be assured" there probably was a ransom.
"If there was a ransom paid, we need to know about it. It's pretty important," he said.
And, Stockman said, we need to know if a ransom was paid through a third party, in order for the administration to be able to technically deny it had paid the Haqqani for Bergdahl.
Because of the careful parsing of its words in the White House's response, the congressman restated the question for the administration:
“Was anyone in the Obama administration, or associated with the Obama administration, at any time aware of any form of compensation provided to anyone in exchange for Bergdahl?”
He has not received a response.
Here is the text of Stockman's letter to Obama:
June 5, 2014
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20006
Your agreement to release five dangerous Taliban leaders in exchange for U.S. Army Spc. Bowe Bergdahl has caused many Americans to doubt whether you have been truthful with Congress.
The release of terrorists is not the only part of the agreement raising concerns about White House actions that may violate the law or place service members in jeopardy.
As you know, the Haqqani Network, which held Bergdahl, is known for financing their terrorist operations through ransoming hostages. The Haqqani Network generally will not release a prisoner unless they also receive a substantial cash payment.
“(Haqqani commander Mullah Sangeen Zadran) is believed to have orchestrated the kidnappings of Afghans and foreign nationals in his control zone, among them the captured U.S. soldier, Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl...The fact that Bergdahl remains in his custody and not in Miran Shah under Badruddin’s watch, suggests that Sangeen maintains considerable autonomy within the network and perhaps imagines he will directly earn a ransom payment in exchange for the American serviceman (emphasis added),” writes Gretchen Peters of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in “Haqqani Network Financing: The Evolution of an Industry.”
The Haqqani Network demanded ransoms for other high-profile captives, such as $5 million for Afghan diplomat Haji Khaliq Farahi and $15 million for New York Times journalist David Rohde. Farahi was freed for his ransom, while Rohde escaped before his ransom could be collected.
“It was also clear that Rohde’s captors were motivated by financial self‐interest and a desire to secure the release of Taliban prisoners,” writes Peters. Bergdahl, a uniformed American service member, was an especially valuable asset to the Haqqani Network.
This has led to concerns the U.S. government, either directly or through a third party, agreed to cash payments as part of the Bergdahl exchange agreement.
I request full answers to the following questions:
1) Did Bergdahl’s captors, or anyone associated with his captivity, request renumeration in exchange for Berghdal?
2) Did you or anyone authorized by or associated with your Administration, authorize any form of compensation, direct or third party, in exchange for Bergdahl?
3) If you or anyone authorized by or associated with your Administration, authorized any form of compensation, direct or third party, in exchange for Bergdahl would you deny it?
4) Would you agree that cash payments to the Haqqani Network, by any party, assists the Network in carrying out violent and terrorist acts?
5) Would you agree that cash payments to the Haqqani Network, by any party, constitute material support to terrorists?
6) The late Michael Hastings, reporting for “Rolling Stone” in 2012, wrote, “’It (Bergdahl’s release) could be a huge win if Obama could bring him home,’ says a senior administration official familiar with the negotiations. ‘Especially in an election year, if it's handled properly.’” Was the Bergdahl exchange agreement discussed with or shared with anyone on the White House’s political staff? What was the date and nature of the communication?
I request written answers to these questions within seven days of the date of this letter.
Member of Congress
Member, House Foreign Affairs Committee
Follow Garth Kant on Twitter @DCgarth