Gitmo Closing Office Closed; Gitmo Still Open

The office working to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba has been closed.

gitmo wire flag

Charlie Savage (“Office Working to Close Guantánamo Is Shuttered“):

The State Department on Monday reassigned Daniel Fried, the special envoy for closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and will not replace him, according to an internal personnel announcement. Mr. Fried’s office is being closed, and his former responsibilities will be “assumed” by the office of the department’s legal adviser, the notice said.

The announcement that no senior official in President Obama’s second term will succeed Mr. Fried in working primarily on diplomatic issues pertaining to repatriating or resettling detainees appeared to signal that the administration does not currently see the closing of the prison as a realistic priority, despite repeated statements that it still intends to do so.


Mr. Fried’s special envoy post was created in 2009, shortly after Mr. Obama took office and promised to close the prison in his first year. A career diplomat, Mr. Fried traveled the world negotiating the repatriation of some 31 low-level detainees and persuading third-party countries to resettle about 40 who were cleared for release but could not be sent home because of fears of abuse.

But the outward flow of detainees slowed almost to a halt as Congress imposed restrictions on further transfers, leaving Mr. Fried with less to do. He was eventually assigned to work on resettling a group of Iranian exiles, known as the M.E.K., who were living in a refugee camp in Iraq, in addition to his Guantánamo duties.

Ian Moss, a spokesman for Mr. Fried’s office, said its dismantling did not mean that the administration had given up on closing the prison. “We remain committed to closing Guantánamo, and doing so in a responsible fashion,” Mr. Moss said. “The administration continues to express its opposition to Congressional restrictions that impede our ability to implement transfers.”

Besides barring the transfer of any detainees into the United States for prosecution or continued detention, lawmakers prohibited transferring them to other countries with troubled security conditions, like Yemen or Sudan. In the most recent defense authorization act, enacted late last year, lawmakers extended those restrictions and expanded them to cover even detainees scheduled to be repatriated under a plea deal with military prosecutors.

Mr. Obama had threatened to veto the bill, but instead he signed it while issuing a signing statement claiming that he had the constitutional power, as commander in chief, to lawfully override such statutory restrictions on the handling of wartime prisoners. Mr. Obama’s intentions were not clear, however, even to internal administration officials.

Closing Gitmo remains a very low priority, indeed. My guess is that the facility will remain open when  Obama finishes his second term.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Of course it’s still open. Obama needs somewhere to put the Fox News people, Rush Limbaugh, the NRA, and the rest of his “enemies list.”

  2. Davebo says:

    Obama needs somewhere to put the Fox News people, Rush Limbaugh, the NRA, and the rest of his “enemies list.”

    Try as he might Jenos can’t make the list and it obviously disturbs him.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    As you say, James, it’s low priority. The president has the same problem that his predecessor did: Guantanamo remains open because it’s the least bad alternative. They don’t know what else to do with the people who remain there. Closing it will remain an unfulfilled aspiration.

  4. Tony W says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    The president has the same problem that his predecessor did

    Actually his predecessor foolishly opened the thing, then found he couldn’t un-ring the bell.

  5. KariQ says:

    Guantanamo remains open because Republicans threw a hissy fit about the idea of “terrorists on US soil” and implied that trying them as criminals would some how endanger the country. It’s ridiculous to think that any of these individuals would escape from a supermax prison, but that’s today’s Republican party. Obama wanted to close it, Republicans wanted a security issue to scream about, Democrats, as always, cringed away from doing the right thing because they didn’t want to be labeled soft on terror.

    It remains a stain on our nation, but as long as security porn remains a talking point, it’s here to stay. Unfortunately.

  6. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @KariQ: So, Kari, it’s the Repubilcans’ fault that Obama made it a major campaign promise, and then totally blew it off? Like so many of his other promises?

    IF Obama made closing Gitmo as much of a priority as, say, the “stimulus,” ObamaCare, Cash for Clunkers, Green Energy subsidies (for his cronies), and others, it’d be closed by now. That it remains open is proof that Obama wants to keep it open.

    And anyone who believed he’d actually keep his promise and close it is a fool.

  7. SKI says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: The idiocy…it burns…

    Congress passed laws blocking the removal of the people detained there. Hence, it remains open. A rational person would not make the claim that it was the President who is blocking it being closed.

  8. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @SKI: Just which law are you talking about? I’m guessing the 2011 Defense Authorization Bill, which was passed by the Democratically-controlled Senate and signed by Obama.

    Or was there some other law you were referring to? Remember, the Democrats held the House from 2007 to 2009, have had the Senate since 2007, and the White House since 2009. The Republicans can block things, but they can’t actually achieve anything without the cooperation of the Democrats.

  9. Franklin says:

    You often hear candidates say they are going to do something that, if elected, they don’t have the full power to actually do. So when resources are allocated towards that something, but other forces prevent it from happening, is that a broken “promise”? Perhaps. But could one say that the candidate “blew it off”? No.

  10. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Franklin: Obama didn’t say he’d work towards closing Gitmo, he said it would be closed down in his first year. Full stop.

    Personally, I’m glad he didn’t even make a half-assed attempt to keep that promise, and wish he was as insincere about a lot of other things he promised, but a lot of his base actually believed him.


  11. Rob in CT says:

    He didn’t “totally blow it off,” he got blocked by Congress. He tried for closure, and failed. Sometimes that happens. Priorities also come into play. Having tried and endured the Congressional hissy fit that resulted, he could either double down (risking failure again) or he could try and do something else that might actually pass.

    It’s funny… if he tried harder, you’d be on here screaming about it.

    You are, as you often are, being disingenous. And everyone else can see it.

  12. wr says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: Shorter Jenos: I approve of what Obama did, but the fact that he did it proves that he sucks.

    Shorter shorter Jenos: Romney in a landslide!!!!!

  13. Mikey says:

    @Rob in CT: Obama never put forth a real plan for closing Gitmo. Congress was right to block funding. From the Huffington Post, May 20, 2009:

    Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, favors closing Guantanamo, and the legislation his panel originally sent to the floor provided money for that purpose once the administration submitted a plan for the shutdown.

    In changing course and seeking to delete the funds, he said, “The fact that the administration has not offered a workable plan at this point made that decision rather easy.”

  14. James says:


    Nice try. If you read the entire article that you quote, the plan was to move detainees to U.S. prisons and have then stand trial but then Congress got a big case of NIMBY.

  15. Mikey says:


    I don’t blame Obama for this–once Gitmo was created, future options were very limited. So if you think this is some “red vs. blue” thing by me, that’s incorrect. But Obama made a mistake when he promised closure before he knew whether it would be possible.

    There was a lot more to Congress’ refusal to fund it than NIMBY-ism, though. There was an understandable reluctance among Democrats to institute an indefinite detention regime on American soil. The problem with Gitmo isn’t where it is, the problem is what it is, and simply moving it to create “Gitmo North” wouldn’t have changed that at all.

  16. James says:

    Except for the fact that the remaining detainees, once moved, were to stand trial inIt criminal court and then bNorthe sentenced. It would then not be Gitmo North.

  17. Mikey says:

    @James: There was no plan to try any but a very few. Some of them could not have been tried, due to how whatever evidence was used to detain them was obtained. Others have already been adjudicated as non-threats but cannot be set free, either because no nation will take them or the only nations that will would probably torture and kill them. Look at how long it took to place the Uighurs, who were no threat at all to the U. S.–and a few of them are still stuck, in a kind of stateless limbo, in Bermuda. (Not a bad place to be stuck, but still.)

    If all the detainees could have been tried, they would have been tried at Gitmo and this debate wouldn’t even have been necessary. There’s no magic wand that gets waved when they move from Cuba to the States. There was never, nor could there ever have been, a plan to try all of them. It simply would not have been possible.

    Again, none of this is Obama’s fault, but he should have understood it before he decided what statement he was going to make about closing the place.

  18. James says:


    True, mostly, but there are always going to be difficulties with any plan. Your original and incorrect statement was that there was no plan.

    There was a lot of resistance to trying them in Gitmo because many were scooped up on questionable intelligence that wouldn’t stand up to trial.

    And just as an interesting side note, some states do practice indefinite detention with sexual predators so that ship has sailed.

  19. swbarnes2 says:


    Some of them could not have been tried, due to how whatever evidence was used to detain them was obtained.

    Come now. They can’t be tried?

    Or they could be tried, but the outcome will not what the government desires, due to the fact that there’s no legitimate evidence, so we won’t?

    Let’s speak honestly about what’s going on here.

  20. Mikey says:

    @swbarnes2: Your statement is more precise than mine, but it’s what I was trying to get at. If they took many of these guys to trial, the case would get tossed because of tainted evidence and the court would order the detainees released. Hence my reference to how the evidence was obtained.

  21. Mikey says:

    @James: I never stated there was no plan, just that the administration hadn’t put forth a real plan. (I originally typed “workable,” but then Daniel Inouye had said “workable” so I changed it.)

    The factors I’ve highlighted aren’t mere “difficulties” that any plan might have, they are factors that doomed the administration’s plan. I’m not sure why they would think they could propose indefinite detention on American soil without a huge amount of push-back.

  22. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    This is so damned surprising — that people captured on the battlefield by US troops weren’t arrested properly, weren’t Mirandized, and in general were treated like combatants (illegal combatants) and not arrestees, that US troops actually acted like soldiers and not cops.

    When so many of government officials are lawyers, they start thinking about everything in terms of lawyering. Currently, we have a lawyer president, vice-president, and about half of Congress. (I’ll give the Supreme Court a pass, but it might be interesting to have a non-lawyer on the Court.)

    In retrospect, the Nuremberg Trials might have been a mistake. Instead of giving the Nazis trials, simply take them, tell them “you forfeited your human rights when you forfeited your humanity,” and execute them quickly and quietly. With that precedent, now everyone seem to think that all problems can — and should — be settled in a courtroom.

  23. Mikey says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: Not everyone tried at Nuernberg was convicted, you know. Taking them all out back and shooting them would have been a travesty.

  24. Franklin says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Obama didn’t say he’d work towards closing Gitmo, he said it would be closed down in his first year. Full stop.

    Did you read a word I said? Full stop.

  25. Rafer Janders says:


    If they took many of these guys to trial, the case would get tossed because of tainted evidence and the court would order the detainees released.

    Well, we can’t have that, can we? Might be we’d have to admit we made a terrible terrible mistake and destroyed several hundred people’s lives. Better just to sweep the whole thing under the rug.

  26. Rafer Janders says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    In retrospect, the Nuremberg Trials might have been a mistake. Instead of giving the Nazis trials, simply take them, tell them “you forfeited your human rights when you forfeited your humanity,” and execute them quickly and quietly.

    Sure. Just like the Nazis did to the people they captured.

    After all, why set an international standard of justice that has been admired for years when we could have just copied the Nazis’ methods? So much simpler.

  27. Mikey says:

    @Rafer Janders: Well, I’m sure that’s part of it, but there are some detainees who are legitimate bad guys and we don’t want them released anytime soon.

    This all goes back to the early 2000s when neither Bush nor Congress wanted to institute anything like a real legal framework for dealing with long-term detention. “Just stick them in legally-ambiguous Gitmo and leave them there forever” turned out to be a bad plan.

    We allowed one awful Black Swan event to take over our national consciousness and made all sorts of bad decisions because of it. Now President Obama is saddled with trying to unscrew the whole mess. I don’t doubt he had the best intentions, but there’s probably not much he can do at this point.

  28. aFloridian says:

    Sorry folks. I know y’all love Obama, but this is a stain on his record. Guantanamo is a failure for the president, and, along with his penchant for drone strikes, some of questionable legality, it really makes the Peace Prize seem like even more of a joke. He’s a surprisingly hawkish president. Never would have guessed i

    I blame Bush, of course. He decided to open it, in the face of human decency and our traditional regard for the rule of law, but closing it was a major Obama pledge, and an important one. i have no doubt many of you were railing against Bush on the Gitmo issue, yet you are all willing to excuse Obama for continuing the problem. One of my theories is that once he sat in the hot seat, much of Obama’s peaceful idealism went out the window in the face of his new, presidential understanding of terrorism and ideological extremism.

    I believe Gitmo needs to be closed. It is a shameful thing for America to hold men without any trial – civilian, military, whatever – for over a decade. That’s what countries like Syria or North Korea do, not the good ol’ US of A.