Ashton Carter, if confirmed as Defense secretary, would play a central role in President Obama's promise to close the Guantánamo Bay detention facility before he leaves office.
Minutes after Obama announced Carter's nomination Friday, a top human rights organization urged Carter to help the president cross "the finish line."
“From day one Carter will face a full agenda, and will play a pivotal role in overseeing policies with human rights at their core,” said Human Rights First’s Raha Wala.
As head of the Pentagon, Carter would be responsible for personally approving any releases from the facility and certifying that the detainee would not return to the battlefield.
“National security experts and President Obama agree that closing Guantánamo should be one of the Pentagon’s top priorities for the next two years; it will be up to Carter to see this across the finish line," Wala said.
The group also urged Congress to grill Carter during his confirmation hearing with the Senate Armed Services Committee on the steps he would take to close the facility. Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMeghan McCain: 'SNL' parodies made me feel like 'laughing stock of the country' Our military shouldn't be held hostage to 'water politics' Meghan McCain blames 'toxic' hostility for 'The View' exit MORE (R-Ariz.), who will be chairman of the panel, supports closing the facility.
The group also urged the president to veto the 2015 defense policy bill, which contains restrictions on closing the facility, but the White House has not indicated whether it would do so. The bill passed the House on Thursday.
The facility currently holds 142 detainees, with 73 cleared for release, but current law prohibits their release, unless approved personally by the defense secretary.
Defense Secretary Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelInterpreter who helped rescue Biden in 2008 escapes Afghanistan Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon chiefs to Congress: Don't default Pentagon chiefs say debt default could risk national security MORE had expressed caution in May over signing off on detainees, and reports have emerged that some detainees who were released have joined the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
However, human rights advocates say the facility, which holds suspected terrorists without trial, as the U.S. continues its war in Afghanistan and against terrorists worldwide, hurts America's reputation abroad.
“It is critical that Carter work within his authority to hasten the transfer of detainees who have been cleared by competent U.S. authorities,” noted Wala.