President Barack Obama will begin a new push to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center by appointing a well-known Washington attorney to a key government position, the State Department announced today.
Obama has asked Clifford Sloan, a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in Washington, to reopen the State Department's Office of Guantanamo Closure, which has been closed since January.
Sloan, a specialist in litigation and appeals for intellectual property law, has previously served in high-ranking positions in all three branches of the federal government, including associate counsel to President Clinton and as assistant to the solicitor general in the U.S. Department of Justice during the George H.W. Bush administration.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a written statement that Sloan shares Obama's belief that Guantanamo's continued operation isn't in the nation's security interests.
"I've known and respected Cliff Sloan for nearly ten years. His intellect and skill as a negotiator is respected across party lines, and he's served presidents Republican and Democratic with equal skill," Kerry said. "I appreciate his willingness to take on this challenge."
At a May 23 speech on national security, Obama once again called on Congress to lift restrictions on transferring prisoners from Guantanamo and announced he would appoint a senior envoy at the State Department whose sole responsibility will be to achieve the transfer of detainees to other countries.
"Given my administration's relentless pursuit of al Qaeda's leadership, there is no justification beyond politics for Congress to prevent us from closing a facility that should never have been opened," Obama said during the speech.
"To the greatest extent possible, we will transfer detainees who have been cleared to go to other countries," Obama said. "Where appropriate, we will bring terrorists to justice in our courts and military justice system. And we will insist that judicial review be available for every detainee."
Sloan's selection also got lauded by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Stevens, and former solicitors general Paul Clement of Bancroft and Ken Starr, president of Baylor University.
"Cliff Sloan is a brilliant lawyer and leader who has succeeded in many different disciplines," Clement said in a statement. "He has an uncanny ability to get to the heart of any difficult problem. He will focus his formidable intellect on this challenging set of issues."
Attorneys who represent Guantanamo detainees were more skeptical because they believe he already has the authority to transfer detainees, said David Remes, a litigator and legal director of Appeal For Justice.
"It's a statement that the administration continues to believe that Congress is the problem, when in fact the administration has all the authority it needs to start transferring detainees, both to Yemen and other countries," Remes said.
"I'm not a political wizard, but I wonder how they think they can bring the Republicans they need on board with any plan to close Guantanamo and send detainees to the U.S.," Remes said. "What's needed here are transfers, and once again Obama has kicked the can down the road while giving the illusion of movement."