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US picks new envoy to oversee Guantanamo closure

Published time: June 17, 2013 04:04
Edited time: June 17, 2013 06:26
AFP Photo / Michelle Shephard / Toronto Star / Pool

AFP Photo / Michelle Shephard / Toronto Star / Pool

The US State Department is expected on Monday to announce the appointment of a new lawyer to oversee the closure of the infamous Guantanamo Bay prison.

Follow RT's day-by-day timeline on Gitmo hunger strike

Cliff Sloan, a Washington lawyer, will take on the post, according to sources familiar with the decision.

Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters that Sloan possessed “the intellect and skill as a negotiator respected across party lines,” adding “Cliff and I share the president's conviction that Guantanamo's continued operation isn't in our security interests."

Sloan has previously served with all three branches of the government and worked on cases in both state and federal courts.

The Guantanamo prison was set up during the Bush administration to try suspected Al Qaeda members and other terrorists. But it turned into a prolonged affair, with evidence on inmates often lacking and the methods chosen for interrogation coming under fire from human rights advocates around the world, who often called them “torture."

Lawyers weren’t given access to their clients, just as UN inspectors could not adequately make an assessment when they weren’t allowed to talk to inmates of their choosing individually. On top of this, the US would sometimes release pictures to show just how well the prisoners had it, but that always contrasted sharply with the testimonies of ex-prisoners and the health condition of current ones, many of whom spend 22 out of 24 hours in solitary confinement.

Despite having lost favor both with members of the public and the government, the prison remains open. The administration of President Barack Obama has been promising to close it since his presidential victory in 2008, but has often said that Congress stands in its way.

AFP Photo / Jim Watson

Attorney David Remes, who represents 17 Gitmo detainees, spoke to RT more than a month ago, sharing his predictions and arguing that Obama offered the “same empty promises” everyone heard before.

“He continues to defend indefinite detention, he is going to appoint an envoy who has no power to do anything beyond what Obama allows him to do, and he keeps blaming Congress for the problem when he has the authority to transfer men,” Remes told RT. “My fear is that people will conclude, from listening to this speech, that there is forward motion, that the problem is solved, Guantanamo is closed, and everybody can go on to other things.”

The uncertain nature of the prisoners’ futures after a decade of detention (often without charge or evidence) has driven them to desperate measures with a collective hunger strike, now involving 104 out of 166 prisoners. This has led to the harrowing ordeal of force-feeding – something that was later discovered to be a very temporary option that could not sustain a person’s life in a healthy way. That is not to mention the argument that many thought that depriving a person of their right to peaceful protest goes against the international principles of human rights.

With the new envoy being announced on Monday, it remains to be seen what precise action will be taken on the matter.

The previous holder of the special envoy post Sloan is to inherit was Daniel Fried. He had been reassigned in January, but has not been replaced. Part of his duties was to persuade countries to take in the inmates that have been approved for release.

John Kerry summarized the administration’s reasons for wanting the facility shut down, and praised the new envoy for his skills and expertise.

"Our fidelity to the rule of law likewise compels us also to end the long, uncertain detention of the detainees at Guantanamo… We can do it in a way that makes us more secure, not less. It will not be easy, but if anyone can effectively navigate the space between agencies and branches of government, it's Cliff.”