Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel today became the first Obama administration official to testify publicly about the controversial decision to swap Bowe Bergdahl for five Gitmo prisoners, and the New York Times reports that he "wrote almost every word of his opening statement himself," canning his speechwriters' suggestions and inserting "his own blocks of paragraphs." His testimony in front of the House Armed Services Committee hasn't produced any bombshells, but there have been a few standout lines:
- Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Robert Ourlian writes that Hagel seemed to set the "tenor" of the session "when he said he takes his responsibilities 'damn seriously–damn seriously.'"
- Hagel argued that the prisoner exchange was done legally. He elaborated: "The president and I would not have moved forward unless we had complete confidence that we were acting lawfully, in the national interest, and in the best traditions of our military."
- But he did concede that "we could have done a better job of keeping you informed." This was an "extraordinary situation," however.
- As for what was extraordinary, Hagel presented a tight timeline, per CNN: "The US signed a memorandum of understanding with Qatar on May 12." Soon after, "US officials received a warning from the Qatari intermediaries that as we proceeded time was not on our side ... This indicated that the risks to Sgt. Bergdahl's safety were growing. We were told by the Qataris that a leak ... would end the negotiation for Bergdahl's release."
- In what may have been the testiest exchange, Florida Rep. Jeff Miller pressed Hagel as to why Bergdahl was still in Germany, rather than in a military hospital in the US, asking whether the reason was solely because medical personnel don't believe he's ready to be moved. "I hope you're not implying anything other than that," said Hagel. "I don't like the implication of the question. "