The clearest sign that U.S. President Barack Obama may have no immediate plans to make good on his promise to close Guantanamo Bay prison for “War on Terror” detainees came on Friday when the State Department quietly released a statement that “special envoy Daniel Fried [in charge of the prisoners’ resettlement office] had been reassigned, his office closed, and his responsibilities... given to the... legal adviser.”
Marking almost four years exactly since Mr. Obama promised to shutter the controversial prison, the latest moves brings the curtain down on the resettlement office that was set up in 2009 aiming to assist detainees who were cleared for release but unable return to home owing to the risk that they would face torture or persecution there.
The significant but under-the-radar indication of policy shift was highlighted by Reprieve, a United Kingdom-based legal action charity, which also noted that three of its clients, Yunnus Chekkouri, Abu Wa’el Dhiab and Nabil Hadjarab, were among those still held and seeking resettlement. “All three were hoping for the assistance of Ambassador Fried’s office to find a home outside the prison; all have been cleared for release for several years,” Reprieve said in a statement.
Hilary Stauffer, Reprieve’s Deputy Legal Director added, “By closing Ambassador Fried’s office the President has broken his promise to close the prison and shattered the hope that these men might ever be able to leave. Government resources... must be in place and have the authority to negotiate transfers with potential host governments.”
While the Obama administration argues that it will continue press for closure of Guantanamo Bay 166 men still remain incarcerated there and, according to a statement by Reprieve, 86 of them have been cleared for release.
The announcement also came as five detainees including alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed appeared before a before a military tribunal this week. They face the death penalty if convicted.
Reports however quoted officials denying a policy shift. The New York Times quoted Ian Moss, a spokesman for Mr. Fried’s office, saying, “We remain committed to closing Guantánamo, and doing so in a responsible fashion... The administration continues to express its opposition to Congressional restrictions that impede our ability to implement transfers.”