Obama Appoints 'Guantanamo Closer' After Letter from Rights Groups

Camp-Delta-article-sizeCarol Rosenberg, Miami Herald

The Obama administration has chosen a former U.S. Marine and seasoned congressional lawyer to serve as the special envoy at the Defense Department for the closure of the Guantánamo prison, which Tuesday held 164 prisoners.

Paul Lewis will fill the job that has been vacant since President Barack Obama created it in May, the Pentagon said Tuesday -- a day after the Miami Herald reported on the appointment.

Lewis, the minority counsel for the House Armed Services Committee, will work for Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel exclusively on closing Guantánamo and transferring foreign prisoners from Afghanistan as a counterpart to State Department envoy Clifford Sloan’s work for Secretary of State John Kerry.

Hagel personally approved the choice, a U.S. official said Monday, hours after 16 legal, religious and human rights groups wrote Obama complaining of slow progress in efforts to close the prison.

The groups that wrote Obama urging action included The American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International USA, the Center for the Victims of Torture, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Human Rights Watch, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Presbyterian Church USA and Physicians for Human Rights.

The letter to Obama claimed that the Pentagon vacancies have "delayed decisions and actions needed to reduce the population at Guantánamo by transferring cleared detainees to foreign countries that will respect their human rights."

Zeke Johnson of Amnesty International argued Monday that "cleared detainees can be transferred under current law." He called closure one of Obama’s "signature promises and his legacy is on the line. The president should direct his administration to move Guantánamo to the front burner, stand up to Congress’ fear-mongering and get the job done." (Read the full article)