Fair Trade: The President’s Power to Recover Captured U.S. Servicemembers and the Recent Prisoner Exchange with the Taliban

April 1, 2015

The Obama Administration’s controversial exchange of five Taliban detainees for a captured U.S. soldier in May 2014 reignited a heated debate over the proper scope of wartime executive authority. From a legal perspective, the primary issue centers on the constitutional balance of power between congressional appropriations and the President’s power as Commander in Chief. A complete analysis incorporates both judicial and historical precedent to evaluate the conflict within the broader context of prisoner recovery efforts.

This Note argues that, regardless of the validity of legislative restrictions on the transfer of Guantánamo detainees, the President possessed sufficient authority to conduct the prisoner exchange. Commanders in Chief have retained exclusive control over recovery efforts since the Revolutionary War, often exchanging nontraditional detainees for regular servicemembers without any congressional opposition. Furthermore, as this Note concludes, Congress elsewhere granted the President ample discretion over notification and defense spending to legally conduct the exchange.

April 2015

No. 5