State Department defends commitment to closing down Guantánamo prison

The Obama administration remains committed to trying to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay despite reassigning a top diplomat in charge of the effort, the State Department said Tuesday.

Daniel Fried, the former special envoy for Guantánamo's closure, is taking over as the department's coordinator for sanctions policy, The New York Times first reported Monday. The State Department says the decision to place his former portfolio in the Office of the Legal Adviser, however, “does not signal a diminution of the Administration’s commitment to close Guantanamo.”

“The Administration has made clear that closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility is in the interest of our national security and remains committed to the responsible and safe transfer of the remaining detainees,” a senior State Department official told The Hill in an email. “The Administration has also long expressed its opposition to Congressional restrictions that impede our ability to implement these transfers. The placement of the Guantanamo portfolio in the Office of the Legal Advisor does not signal a diminution of the Administration’s commitment to close Guantanamo. We will continue to pursue this important policy objective.”

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Under President Obama, the official said, the number of detainees at the prison has decreased from 242 to 166.

“Ambassador Fried’s work as the Department’s lead diplomat on detainee transfers for the past four years has assisted in the transfer of 71 detainees to numerous destinations, including the transfer of 40 detainees to third countries,” the official said. “Ambassador Fried’s work has been instrumental to this effort, and other U.S. diplomats will greatly benefit from this foundation in pursuing future transfers.”

“The Department of State will continue its efforts, in coordination with other U.S. Departments and agencies, to implement future Guantanamo detainee transfers consistent with current U.S. law.”