A coalition of human rights, religious, and civil liberties organizations, including The Constitution Project, is pressing the Obama administration to carry out two key steps toward closing the Guantánamo Bay prison that the president promised in May.
In a letter delivered to the White House on October 7, the groups noted that more than four months have elapsed since the president renewed his commitment to close the prison during a May 23 speech at the National Defense University, and yet very little movement has occurred, with only 2 of the 166 prisoners having been transferred during that time.
Specifically, the letter pointed to the failure to appoint a special envoy at the Department of Defense whose responsibility will be to facilitate the transfer of detainees to third countries where they will be treated humanely. Obama promised to identify dedicated officials at both the State and Defense Departments to focus on closing the prison. In June, Secretary of State John Kerry tapped Clifford Sloan, a veteran Washington attorney and civil servant, as the State Department’s envoy focused on shuttering Guantánamo Bay, but Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has yet to name a Pentagon counterpart.
The groups also pointed to internal disagreements within the administration about the president’s ability to initiate transfers under current law. President Obama’s commitment to use existing authority to the greatest extent possible to transfer prisoners out of Guantánamo “appears to have been largely thwarted by some administration officials applying exceedingly narrow interpretations of that authority,” the letter said.
In a comprehensive report released in April, TCP’s independent bipartisan blue-ribbon Task Force on Detainee Treatment urged the president to close Guantánamo, along with more than two dozen other findings and recommendations on the detention and treatment of suspected terrorists.
UPDATE: On October 8, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced the appointment of Paul M. Lewis to the position of Special Envoy for Guantanamo closure. Lewis is currently Minority General Counsel of the House Armed Services Committee.
Lewis will begin his work at the Pentagon on November 1, 2013. In addition to facilitating transfer determinations for Guantanamo detainees, he will oversee efforts to transfer third country nationals currently held by the United States in Afghanistan.