Pentagon Special Envoy Should Use Authority to Advance Closure of Guantanamo

Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First welcomes the appointment of Paul Lewis as Pentagon special envoy to close Guantanamo. The appointment fulfills a commitment President Obama made in his May 23 speech at the National Defense University (NDU) to name special envoys at the State and Defense Departments who would lead a renewed push to close the prison facility. The State Department envoy, Cliff Sloan, has been on the job for several months.

“Guantanamo is expensive, inefficient, and a drain on our national security,” said Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino. “The president has pledged repeatedly to shut it down, and now he has two key people charged with delivering on that promise.”

Paul Lewis currently serves as minority counsel for the House Armed Services Committee and is well-versed on Guantanamo. He is a former judge advocate general for the United States Marine Corps Reserve, and served in the Office of Legislative Counsel for the Department of Defense under both the Bush and Obama Administrations.

“There is no lack of clarity from the commander in chief on this issue:  Guantanamo squanders scarce financial resources and undermines U.S. moral authority in the fight against terrorism. Closing it is a national security imperative. These two envoys should use the authority vested in them by the president to force the decisions necessary to bring this policy to an end,” said Massimino.

Human Rights First recently published Guantanamo: A Comprehensive Exit Strategy which outlines the steps the administration should take:

  • Transfer the 84 men at Guantanamo who have been cleared for transfer by the defense and intelligence agencies;
  • Immediately commence the Periodic Review Boards to determine which of the detainees that have neither been cleared nor charged can be cleared for transfer because they longer pose a security risk to the United States ; and,
  • Vigorously and visibly support the Guantanamo-related provisions in the Senate Armed Services Committee’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act for the 2014 Fiscal Year. These provisions would provide greater authority to the executive branch to transfer detainees from Guantanamo to the United States for prosecution, incarceration, or medical treatment, and clearer authority to repatriate or resettle detainees cleared for transfer.

Since the NDU speech, in which the president pledged to move more aggressively despite congressional roadblocks, progress towards closing Guantanamo has been slow. The administration has transferred only two detainees out of Guantanamo and scheduled one or more detainees for transfer.

“If the president is serious about closing Guantanamo by the end of his second term, the White House must drive the process and create momentum. The special envoys will need to ensure that the relevant agencies and departments work together to transfer cleared detainees out of Guantanamo quickly and at a steady pace, using to the maximum extent the waiver authority Congress has provided to facilitate transfers,” concluded Massimino. “Scores of retired generals and admirals, law enforcement and intelligence officials, and political leaders of both parties have concluded that closing Guantanamo is a national security imperative. It’s time for our actions to reflect that judgment.”


Published on October 9, 2013


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