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GAO: Pentagon broke the law with Bowe Bergdahl prisoner swap

A review by the Government Accountability Office found that the Pentagon did not follow the law when it exchanged five Taliban fighters for U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl without giving Congress 30 days notice.

This was a violation of the 2014 Defense Appropriations Act, the report said. The GAO, an independent nonpartisan agency that works for Congress, also found that the Pentagon bankrolled the prisoner swap with funds not intended for that purpose, which is prohibited by the Antideficiency Act. "We have consistently concluded that the use of appropriated funds for prohibited purposes violates the Antideficiency Act, because zero funds are available for the purpose," the report said.

The Pentagon disagrees, saying that under a section of the appropriations act, the defense secretary can move Guantanamo prisoners for national security reasons. "The administration had a fleeting opportunity to protect the life of a U.S. service member held captive and in danger for almost five years," Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said. "Under these exceptional circumstances, the administration determined that it was necessary and appropriate to forego 30 days' notice of the transfer in order to obtain Sgt. Bergdahl's safe return." The Justice Department signed off on the swap, the Pentagon added.

The GAO says that the Pentagon will have to report the violation of the Antideficiency Act to Congress, the president, and the comptroller general, explaining what happened, what corrective action will be taken, and whether anyone will be punished.

Bergdahl was held by Taliban fighters after he disappeared from his patrol base in Afghanistan. The U.S. Army is now investigating Bergdahl to see if he deserted his post or went absent without leave, both crimes under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.