Byron York | At Bergdahl hearing, Hagel hedges the tough questions

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is not a lawyer. He’s not famous for lawyerly evasions. But when it came to a few of the most critical issues discussed at the House Armed Services Committee’s hearing on the Bowe Bergdahl case Wednesday, Hagel was full of wiggle words. Actually, just one wiggle word — “direct” — but Hagel used it repeatedly to sow confusion about some key questions.

The first question concerned the background of the five Taliban commanders traded by the Obama administration for the release of Bergdahl. Hagel sought to downplay the threat posed by freeing the five. “They’ve been in U.S. custody at Guantanamo …12, 13 years, but they have not been implicated in any attacks against the United States,” he said.

That caught the attention of Republican Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, the vice chairman of the committee. Citing publicly-available intelligence suggesting some of the released Taliban had in fact planned attacks on Americans and coalition forces in Afghanistan, Thornberry asked, “At least at some point, there was evidence that they were involved in hostilities, military operations against the coalition, weren’t they?”

“Yes,” Hagel agreed. “They were mid- to high-ranking members of the Taliban. So yes, they were part of planning. But my point was, we have no direct evidence of any direct involvement in direct attacks on the U.S. or any of our troops. They were part of the Taliban — yes, they were combatants.”

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