Chuck Hagel: Bergdahl swap didn’t set any new precedents

Quizzed by Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) on Wednesday about nature of the prisoner swap in which Taliban-affiliated Haqqani Network released Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for the release of five Taliban commanders, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel claimed that the exchange did not set any new precedents.

Smith began by saying that he, too, did not believe that the Bergdahl swap had established a new precedent for negotiating with terrorist groups. “Do you think that we’ve set some precedent here for negotiating with terrorists, or is this clearly, as it is in my mind, in a different legal category?” Smith asked.

“This was an extraordinary situation,” Hagel began. “On the precedent-setting side of this, I’m not the legal person here, but I do occasionally read. I don’t think that there were any precedents set by this.”

“We can get into all the appropriate categorizations of who are combatants, and who we were with war with, and who were terrorists, and we have legal definitions for all of those,” he continued. “I know it’s imperfect, but I do think it plays into the larger scope of what we were dealing with.”

“What is unprecedented today is the threats and what we’re up against around the world: organized, sophisticated terrorist groups,” Hagel concluded.

Later, after conceding that the State Department lists Haqqani Network as a terrorist group, Hagel insisted that America did not negotiate directly with the Haqqani Network for Bergdahl’s release.

An earlier version of this post identified Rep. Smith as a Republican.