Critics and defenders of Bowe Bergdahl swap continue chiming in

Updated at 5:15 p.m.

Amid a growing chorus of criticism by Republicans over the decision to exchange five Taliban detainees at Guantanamo Bay for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, President Obama has found at least one Democratic defender: Hillary Clinton.

Speaking at an event in the Denver suburbs Monday night, the former secretary of state said, ""This young man, whatever the circumstances, was an American citizen - is an American citizen - was serving in our military...The idea that you really care for your own citizens and particularly those in uniform, I think is a very noble one."

Clinton went on to note that Bergdahl might be able to provide valuable information about the Taliban from his five years in captivity. But she also noted that she understood the concerns about the exchange.

"You don't want to see these five prisoners go back to combat. There's a lot that you don't want to have happen. On the other hand you also don't want an American citizen, if you can avoid it, especially a solider, to die in captivity," Clinton said. "I think we have a long way to go before we really know how this is going to play out."

One of the principal lines of criticism from Republicans has been the possibility that the former Taliban leaders will return to the organization once their mandated year in Qatar is up. Former Vice President Dick Cheney echoed that concern in a Fox News appearance Monday night.

"I think there's a distinct possibility that these five will in fact go into the battle," Cheney said. "These are people that are most likely to go back and once again launch strikes or attacks against Americans, against our friends and allies in the region. I think the odds are that they will in fact do that and we'll end up paying another kind of price because of the transaction that's been negotiated here."

Cheney was critical of the Obama administration, saying, "I do think they have in fact negotiated with terrorists and I don't think they got a very good deal."

The decision seems likely to receive additional scrutiny from Congress with Republicans in both the House and Senate calling for hearings to investigate both the legality of the prisoner swap - Congress was not notified 30 days before it took place - and whether it has endangered national security.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, backed the calls for hearings, saying that when the administration first raised the possibility of a prisoner swap more than two years ago, he raised serious concerns and was promised further engagement if it became viable once again. House Republican aides say those questions -- as well as deep misgivings about a prisoner exchange -- were raised by lawmakers from both parties when they were briefed on the idea in 2011 and 2012.

"There was every expectation that the administration would re-engage with Congress, as it did before, and the only reason it did not is because the administration knew it faced serious and sober bipartisan concern and opposition," Boehner said in a statement.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said in a statement Tuesday that members of Congress "should not be surprised that he acted as he did in the circumstances that existed."

"The President put Congress on notice on Dec. 23, 2013, that he intended to exercise his powers as commander in chief, if necessary, 'to act swiftly in conducting negotiations with foreign countries regarding the circumstances of detainee transfers,'" Levin said, though he noted that the president still cannot unilaterally change the law.

Levin said he plans to ask what risks would have been incurred if the Secretary of Defense had waited an additional 30 days after completing negotiations on the prisoner swap. He noted that he gives "serious weight" to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey, who said that the deal was negotiated during what was likely the "last, best opportunity" to free Bergdahl.

Other Democrats have been more direct in their criticism.

"We feel that there is intelligence that potentially makes a majority of these people a danger for the future," said Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., following a closed hearing on the prisoner exchange. She detailed previous efforts by members of Congress to express their concerns about such a deal in the past.

"It comes with some surprise and dismay that the transfers went ahead with no consultation, totally not following the law," Feinstein said.

Mr. Obama defended his administration's actions during a press conference Tuesday morning, saying the U.S. has a "sacred rule" not to leave men or women in uniform behind in battle.

"We have consulted with Congress for quite some time about the possibility that we might need to execute a prisoner exchange in order to recover Sergeant Bergdahl," Mr. Obama said. "We saw an opportunity, we were concerned about Sergeant Bergdahl's health, we had the cooperation of the Qataris to execute an exchange and we seized that opportunity."

But many lawmakers are still concerned that the president put U.S. security at risk.

"The fact of the matter is that a very dangerous precedent has been set here by this administration. It is a precedent negotiating with terrorists, number one, and it's a precedent of being very callous with the way in which we release prisoners from Guantanamo Bay," said Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee. "The president needs to look the American people in the eye and explain to the American people why he was justified in releasing the five individuals and why their backgrounds didn't demand and mandate that they be detained at Guantanamo for an indefinite period of time," he said.

Chambliss says he is writing to the president to demand that the administration declassify the files of the five former detainees so the American people can view them.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on the other hand, said the Taliban members had been at Guantanamo Bay for "far too long" and that he is happy to send them to Qatar. He criticized Republicans for blocking attempts to try them in the U.S.

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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