Envoy confident Gitmo will be closed

The man in charge of closing the U.S. detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, says he has no doubt it will be shuttered.

Clifford Sloan, the State Department’s envoy in charge of closing Guantánamo Bay, said in an interview on PBS “Newshour” Thursday evening that he believed the obstacles to closing the prison — including moving detainees to the U.S. for trial — could be overcome.

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“I am absolutely convinced that we are going to close the Guantánamo facility,” Sloan said.

“We are going to close the Guantánamo detention facility. I have no doubt about that. And President Obama is very strongly committed to that,” he said.

The Obama administration has picked up the pace of transferring detainees from Guantánamo in recent months, with nine detainees transferred in December.

Those transfers included the final three ethnic Chinese Uyghurs at Guantánamo, who were sent to Slovakia earlier this week.

Sloan said that the pace of transfers could pick up in 2014 as well, as the newly signed National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) loosened the restrictions on sending detainees to foreign countries.

Of the 155 remaining detainees at Guantánamo, 76 have been cleared for release.

“The law will be different in 2014 — I think that is going to help us very much in moving forward with the transfers,” Sloan said. “We feel very strongly there is a new air of possibility on moving forward on closing the Guantánamo detention facility. That is what we are focused on.”

Sloan, along with his Pentagon counterpart Paul Lewis, were appointed by Obama this year to jumpstart the administration’s efforts to close Guantánamo.

Obama renewed his pledge — one of this first he made when he took office — during a national security speech in May, and the transfers resumed later in the year to end a two-year gap between transfers.

There are still significant obstacles to closing Guantánamo, most notably the restriction on moving detainees to U.S. soil. In the compromise NDAA bill that Obama signed last month, the U.S. restrictions remained in place.  

The administration backed away from efforts to try alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in federal court during Obama’s first term, and a military tribunal for Mohammed and four others is in the pretrial phase at Guantánamo.

Sloan said he thought the ban on U.S. transfers could be lifted so Guantánamo detainees could be tried in the federal court system.

“I think you are seeing a new recognition across the spectrum that it's time to move on; it is time to put this problem before us,” he said.