President Obama filled a six-month-old vacancy Monday to a post essential to fulfilling his promise of closing the Guantanamo Bay prison with the appointment of Clifford Sloan, a high-profile Washington lawyer, to head the State Department’s efforts.
As the special envoy chosen to reopen the State Department’s Office of Guantanamo Closure, Sloan will be the lead negotiator for the transfer of detainees abroad, according to an announcement by Secretary of State John Kerry Monday.
Veteran Guantanamo reporter Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald called Sloan’s pick “a bit of a surprise” on Andrea Mitchell Reports Monday. “People down here didn’t immediately recognize his name,” Rosenberg said from Guantanamo, where five men accused of carrying out the 9/11 attacks, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, are on trial.
Sloan served as an associate counsel to former President Bill Clinton, and prior to that, as assistant to the solicitor general under former President George H.W. Bush. Most recently he was a partner at the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.
“I’ve known and respected Cliff Sloan for nearly ten years,” Kerry said in a statement released Monday. “He’s someone respected by people as ideologically different as Kenneth Starr and Justice Stevens, and that’s the kind of bridge-builder we need to finish this job.”
The president highlighted closing the detention facility as a top priority in his May address on national security, but the House voted overwhelmingly Friday to keep the prison open and fully funded for another year.
“It looks like Cliff Sloan is the man to go up to the Hill to try to persuade them to let them start reducing the population through transfers, one at a time, to countries that are willing to resettle the men that were cleared for release in 2010,” Rosenberg told Andrea Mitchell Monday.
One hundred and sixty-six prisoners remain at Guantanamo Bay, 86 of them have been cleared for transfer. Reuters reported Friday that the administration cut its list of 36 prisoners slated for prosecution down to 20 citing lack of evidence. More than 100 detainees remain on a four-month-old hunger strike, 44 of the hunger strikers have been force-fed by Navy troops.
Watch Andrea Mitchell’s interview with Carol Rosenberg below: