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October 24, 2014

Hagel: President Made Final Decision on Bergdahl Swap (Video)

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Hagel testified that the final decision on the Bergdahl swap rested with Obama. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, testifying Wednesday before the House Armed Services Committee, told lawmakers that the Obama administration could have done a better job communicating with Congress on the decision to trade five Taliban prisoners for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

“Wars are messy, and they’re full of imperfect choices,” Hagel told the panel in his opening remarks. But he defended the White House decision to make the trade without notifying Congress, and he made it clear the decision came from the top.

“The president’s decision to move forward with the transfer of these detainees was a tough call,” Hagel said. “I supported it. I stand by it. As secretary of Defense, I have the authority and the responsibility, as has been noted here, to determine whether detainees … at Guantánamo Bay can be transferred to the custody of another country. I take that responsibility, Mr. Chairman, members of this committee, damn seriously. Damn seriously. As I do any responsibility I have in this job.”

Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon created headlines a day earlier when he said, after being briefed by other administration officials, that “they indicated [it was] Secretary Hagel [who made the final call].”

Hagel pushed back at that claim Wednesday.

“Mr. Chairman, I want to be clear on one fundamental point — I would never sign off on any decision that I did not feel was in the best interests of this country. Nor would the president of the United States, who made the final decision with the full support of his national security team,” he said, reading from prepared remarks.

Hagel sharply criticized news coverage and characterizations of the Bergdahl family.

“I’ve been offended and disappointed in how the Bergdahl family has been treated by some people. No family deserves this. I hope there will be sober reflection on people’s conduct regarding this issue and how it relates to the Bergdahl family,” Hagel said.

Watch the live hearing below:

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