Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski called on the Obama administration Thursday to turn its attention to two Marylanders who are being detained overseas and argued that the recent release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl raised significant questions for U.S. efforts to bring those men home.
In a letter to President Barack Obama, the Maryland Democrat said she has concerns the resources dedicated to Bergdahl's release are not being equally applied to civil servants and contractors. One of those men, Alan Gross, has been detained in Cuba since 2009. Another, Warren Weinstein, has been held in Pakistan since 2011.
Both men are Montgomery County residents.
"I deeply respect our nation's enduring commitment to bring all military prisoners of war home," Mikulski wrote in the letter. "However, I am concerned that the same energy and resources that we rightfully put into our nation's prisoners of war are not being extended to our nation’s civil servants and contractors."
Sen. Ben Cardin, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, raised similar concerns in a statement Thursday -- speaking out for the first time on Bergdahl since receiving a briefing on the situation earlier in the week.
"I have questions about what latest steps are being taken to free American civilians being held overseas," Cardin said, referencing Gross and Weinstein. "For years now, I have been raising their cases at the highest levels possible. I’d like to know how we can expedite the freedom of these two Americans."
Cardin also called on the White House to declassify as much material as possible regarding the Bergdahl case "to help all of us gain a better understanding of Sgt. Bergdahl’s capture and recent release, and the circumstances concerning the detainees who were transferred to Qatar."
The questions from Mikulski and Cardin add a new layer to the debate over Bergdahl's release that has received increasing attention in recent days: What impact the administration's actions may have on other Americans being held overseas.
Gross is serving a 15-year prison sentence in Cuba. Gross was working as a sub-contractor for the United States Agency for International Development. Weinstein, 72, was taken hostage by al Qaeda in Pakistan in August, 2011. Weinstein's work focused on economic development projects, according to Mikulski's office.
Other Maryland lawmakers, including Rep. John Delaney of Potomac, have also raised concerns about Gross and Weinstein in the context of the Bergdahl situation, though Mikulski appears to be the first to directly question the White House on whether the administration will now take a new approach in the cases.
The state's senior senator also requested information about whether the administration considered negotiating for Weinstein's release at the same time as Bergdahl.
"If not, why not?" Mikulski wrote. "If so, why were other missing Americans not ultimately included in the final deal?"
"The families of Alan Gross and Warren Weinstein stand vigil for them every day. Birthdays, anniversaries and holidays pass without them. Their ordeals are not over," she added. "They need to know that the U.S. Government is making every effort to bring their loved ones home safely and that we will leave no American behind."
In a statement Thursday, Delaney said he hoped "that the national conversation on this topic helps to shine a spotlight on Warren."
All three are Democrats.
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