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Public Statements

Issues in the Middle East

Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC

The SPEAKER pro tempore. The Chair recognizes the gentleman from California (Mr. Sherman) for 5 minutes.

Mr. SHERMAN. Madam Speaker, I rise to address issues in the Middle East. The President has been criticized for the fact that we do not have a large residual force in Iraq and that we do not have a status of forces agreement with the Iraqi Government.

Let us take note that it was President George Bush who installed Prime Minister Maliki in May of 2006. President George Bush's decision to allow Maliki to take power and to allow him to keep power is directly responsible for most of the woes facing Iraq today.

Maliki was so malevolent that, throughout 2006, 2007, and 2008, he refused to enter into a long-term status of forces agreement with the United States and with President Bush. He insisted that any troops that remained in Iraq after 2011 would be subject to Iraqi kangaroo courts and could be executed on trumped-up charges. Obviously, we couldn't leave our troops in Iraq under those circumstances.

It is Maliki that is the source of the problem, and it is President Bush that is the source of Maliki. To say that President Obama should be able to negotiate a long-term agreement with Maliki when President Bush was unable to do so is utterly absurd.

As to Sergeant Bergdahl, it is important for us to note that, while we have just released five prisoners from Guantanamo, President Bush released over 500 from Guantanamo, and virtually all of them were dangerous.

Over 100 of them are on the battlefield--and we know where on the battlefield they are--waging war against the United States and its allies. Most of the other 500 are also waging war against us; it is just that our intelligence isn't good enough to say exactly where on the battlefield they are located.

What did President Bush get for the release, not of five, but 500 dangerous prisoners from Guantanamo? Nothing, except a thank you from their native governments.

Now, on legal issues, we are told that section 1035 of the National Defense Authorization Act required President Obama not to release the five prisoners until 30 days after he notified Congress.

Even if he had followed those exact words, instead of releasing the five a few hours after Sergeant Bergdahl was in our hands, we would have released them a few weeks after Sergeant Bergdahl was back in our hands, hardly of great significance.

More importantly, the President has the constitutional right, as Commander in Chief, to engage in prisoner exchanges. In fact, the last Republican Attorney General of the United States, Michael Mukasey, said that very thing just recently.

The President was on firm legal ground in deciding he had the authority to take this action without a 30-day notification of Congress. That being said, it would have been preferable if President Obama had, in fact, discussed the matter with key congressional leaders.

America is strongest when the President views Congress as a source of counsel, a source of advice, rather than a group of enemies to be notified only when such notification is explicitly compelled by congressionally valid statutes.

Whether this deal is a good deal, time will tell. It was a judgment call, but the President could have benefited from the counsel of Congress. It is particularly insulting for some to say that Congress is not a source of counsel, but just a source of leaks.

Keep in mind that 16 congressional leaders knew that we had ascertained the hiding place of Osama bin Laden, and that information did not leak from Congress.

I hope, in the future, President Obama and future Presidents consult key Members of Congress when making a difficult decision.

We are told that we don't negotiate with terrorists. Nothing could be further from the truth. President Bush negotiated with each and every terrorist regime, each and every identified state sponsor of terrorism--Cuba, Iran, Sudan, Syria, North Korea.

The Bush administration paid a ransom to an al Qaeda affiliate for the release of Martin and Gracia Burnham. Secretary Colin Powell designated the Afghan Taliban as an organization authorized for legal negotiations.

Now, it is also said that a prisoner exchange alerts our enemies to the fact that we value our prisoners, that we will not want to leave anyone on the battlefield, as if this is news disclosed to the world in June of 2014. The fact is we have always valued those detained by the enemy, and the enemy has always known that.


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