Lawmakers outraged over the Obama administration’s deal to release five Taliban detainees to the Qatari government in exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl may get their chance to grill the next U.S. ambassador to the Arab emirate over the prisoner swap.
Last month, President Obama announced his nomination of Dana Shell Smith to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Qatar. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to hold a confirmation hearing on Smith’s nomination sometime in the near future. A hearing date has not yet been made public, and a spokesman for committee chairman Sen. Bob Menendez did not return a request for comment.
Smith’s nomination comes as lawmakers are asking questions about the administration’s deal to release five high-ranking Taliban officials who had been detained at Guantanamo Bay.
Obama announced the deal in a Rose Garden press conference.“As part of this effort, the United States is transferring five detainees from the prison in Guantanamo Bay to Qatar,” he said. “The Qatari government has given us assurances that it will put in place measures to protect our national security.”
Obama thanked Qatar for its role in the release. “I’m also grateful for the tireless work of our diplomats, and for the cooperation of the government of Qatar in helping to secure Bowe’s release,” Obama said. “We’ve worked for several years to achieve this goal, and earlier this week I was able to personally thank the Emir of Qatar for his leadership in helping us get it done.”
Those released include Mohammad Fazl, Mohammad Nabi, Abdul Haq Wasiq, Mullah Norullah Nori and Khairullah Khairkhwa — a group Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham has called the “Taliban Dream Team.”
“The five terrorists released were the hardest of the hard-core,” Graham said. “They held positions of great importance within the hard-core anti-American Taliban, including the Chief of Staff of the Taliban Army and the Taliban Deputy Minister of Intelligence. They have American blood on their hands and surely as night follows day they will return to the fight.”
Smith, Obama’s nominee to serve in Qatar, is a career member of the Foreign Service. She currently serves at the state department as a senior advisor to the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, a position she has held since 2014.