Obama shuts down office in charge of Guantanamo resettlement efforts

January 29, 2013

The office of the special envoy in charge of closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay has been shut down, the Obama administration has announced.

Coming almost exactly four years after the President promised to close the prison within a year, this move effectively signals the end of Obama’s attempts to help with resettlement of those men still held.

A statement quietly released on Friday [January 25th] afternoon by the State Department stated that special envoy Daniel Fried had been reassigned, his office closed, and his responsibilities around Guantanamo given to the already overstretched State Department legal adviser. Mr Fried’s office was established in 2009 shortly after President Obama signed an executive order calling for the closure of Guantanamo Bay prison within a year.

The main focus of his office was on the men who have been cleared for release but who can not return to their home countries because of the real risk that they will face torture or persecution there. Among those still held and seeking resettlement are Reprieve’s clients Yunnus Chekkouri, Abu Wa’el Dhiab and Nabil Hadjarab. All three were hoping for the assistance of Ambassador Fried’s office to find a home outside the prison. All have been cleared for release for several years. Yunnus is from Morocco and Abu Wa’el from Syria. Neither man can return home because of fears over imprisonment and torture.

Nabil Hadjarab is an Algerian who was raised in France, where his family resides. Reprieve is currently urging the French government to do everything they can to get Nabil back to France. The Obama administration continues to claim that they are seeking the closure of the notorious prison. 166 men remain in Guantanamo Bay, 86 of whom have been cleared for release – an arduous process involving the unanimous consent of no fewer than six US federal agencies and a designation that these men pose no threat.

Hilary Stauffer, Reprieve’s Deputy Legal Director, said: “Yunnus Chekkouri, Abu Wa’el Dhiab, Nabil Hadjarab and all the other men who are being held with neither charge nor trial have just been completely abandoned by the Obama administration. By closing Ambassador Fried’s office the President has broken his promise to close the prison and shattered the hope that these men might ever be able to leave. Government resources necessary for closing Guantanamo must be in place and have the authority to negotiate transfers with potential host governments.”