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On Bowe Bergdahl prisoner swap, New York lawmakers still have concerns

Activists hold a banner to welcome Army Sgt.

Activists hold a banner to welcome Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl home during a rally outside the White House on June 10, 2014 in Washington, DC. Credit: Getty Images / Alex Wong

WASHINGTON -- New York Democratic and Republican lawmakers Tuesday said they continue to have concerns about the trade of five Taliban commanders for U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl despite several closed-door briefings by Pentagon officials in the past week.

Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) joined Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) in raising questions about the effectiveness of the restrictions the Taliban commanders will face in Qatar, where they were sent after being freed from the U.S. prison camp at Guantánamo Bay.

Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) joined King in saying he remains critical of President Barack Obama for failing to give Congress 30 days' notice of the deal, as required by law.

Like most members of Congress, the New York lawmakers say they're glad to have Bergdahl back after five years of captivity by the Taliban.

But they voiced some of the bipartisan criticism of the deal that has hardened across Congress since Obama announced the May 31 prisoner swap -- which a Pew Research poll Monday showed more Americans oppose, 43 percent, than support, 34 percent.

King said the deal to recover Bergdahl came at too high a price by including "five of the hardest of the hard core" Taliban with "a real potential of going back on the battlefield."

To defend the swap, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is set to appear Wednesday before the House Armed Services Committee.

It's not clear he can provide any new information that will change any views, King said.

"I've been at two classified briefings," King said. "Obviously, there are classified facts, but there is nothing that really changes the underlying issues."

Gillibrand went to a briefing of the Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. Afterward, she said in a statement she still has "some concerns regarding the national security risks involved with this exchange that were not alleviated by today's briefing."

Schumer said in a statement, "I still have questions about how those released will be monitored and controlled."

At Wednesday's hearing, King said, Hagel should address how quickly the U.S. military will be able to respond if the Taliban commanders break the conditions of their release.

Defending Obama's failure to notify Congress, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) yesterday said the deal wasn't sealed until the day before it happened.

Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans) said, "The president could have prevented a great headache had he informed at least the leadership of Congress."

But Meeks added: "Overall, I think that the policy call was a correct call. I think we don't leave anybody . . . behind."

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