Outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel admitted that he felt pressured by the White House to approve the transfer of more Guantanamo Bay prisoners — and at a faster pace.
Hagel made the admission in an interview Friday with CNN’s Barbara Starr.
“Not everyone at the White House has agreed with me [about Guantanamo Bay detainees],” said Hagel, who is set to leave office in a matter of days.
“On what part of this?” Starr asked.
“Probably on the pace of releases,” Hagel said.
President Obama has sought to fulfill a pledge he made on the presidential campaign trail that he would close down Guantanamo Bay altogether. But with no chance of lawmakers approving the imprisonment of detainees on U.S. soil, the administration has had to find other accommodations. Currently 122 prisoners are being held at the facility.
And then there is the concern about recidivism, which has come to the forefront amid reports that one of the five Taliban commanders released from Guantanamo last year in exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is engaging in military activity from Qatar, the country that agreed to house him.
“By law I am the one official in government charged with certification of releasing detainees,” Hagel said, explaining why the speed by which he’s approving transfers may appear to be slow to some.
“I take that responsibility very seriously,” continued Hagel, who also told Starr that he “absolutely” believes that the swap for Bergdahl was the right decision, even as questions mount over whether Bergdahl deserted his Army unit in 2009.
Asked by Starr if he’s had pressure, Hagel said, he’s “had a lot of conversations” with the White House, Congress and the press.
“I’ve been in this town a long time,” said Hagel. “And there’s pressure all the time in every job that comes from a lot of different directions.”
It has been speculated since Hagel announced his resignation in November that the White House and Obama’s inner circle were unhappy with the slow pace by which Hagel was approving detainee transfers.
According to a report from The New York Times after Hagel’s announcement, after Hagel nixed a plan to repatriate four Afghans who had been approved for transfer, Obama national security adviser Susan Rice became annoyed.
But Hagel has so far avoided providing details about his relationship with the White House.
“He has never publicly been this candid about that pressure from the White House,” Starr told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer following the interview. “The White House wanted him to move faster on approving the release of detainees from Guantanamo Bay, and the White House wanted him to approve more of them.”