The White House is close to announcing its new envoy at the State Department responsible for the prison at Guantanamo Bay, one of the two positions it plans to fill in its efforts to close the facility, according to an administration official. The other will be within the Department of Defense.
In his May national security speech, President Obama promised to appoint officials to oversee closing the base and transferring prisoners. He also called on Congress to work with him to close Guantanamo and announced he would lift his ban on transferring detainees to Yemen. Progress since then has been slow, although there have been some recent developments.
The last official to hold the State Department job was reassigned in January and the position has been empty ever since.
Senators John McCain and Dianne Feinstein traveled to the military prison last Friday with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough to observe conditions there. McCain told CNN after the trip that there is now more support to close Guantanamo, and that he was working with the president to find a way to transfer some detainees to a maximum security facility in the United States.
Relocating prisoners to America would not mean an end to their detention or that they would definitely face trial.
McCain said that legislators would work to give detainees “more periodic review of their cases,” although a task force put together by the Obama administration has already reviewed the prisoners.
The administration has yet to create the Periodic Review Boards announced in a March 2011 executive order. Spokespeople at the Department of Defense have said they are still working on implementing this order.
Guantanamo Bay currently has 166 prisoners, 86 of whom have been cleared for transfer. More than one hundred men are on hunger strike in protest of their continued detention. The administration is still planning to prosecute 20 men through military commissions. The Guantanamo Review Task Force had said before that 36 prisoners could be prosecuted, although the ultimate fate of the other 16 is still unclear.
As part of its National Defense Authorization Act, the House of Representatives voted Friday to keep the prison open and fully funded for another year. The House passed its version of the bill on Friday.
The Senate is working on its own version of the NDAA. The House version once again includes restrictions on detainee transfers that make it onerous and politically risky to transfer detainees that have been cleared by an Obama administration task force to other countries. The White House released a Statement of Administrative Policy that said the president could veto the NDAA if it did not relax these restrictions, although Obama has signed the last two NDAAs after veto threats.
The current NDAA does include provisions that would allow the Secretary of Defense to issue waivers that would allow transfers to proceed without congressional approval, although the administration has yet to take advantage of this power.