In this photo reviewed by the U.S. military, the sun rises above Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013.

In this photo reviewed by the U.S. military, the sun rises above Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013. Charles Dharapak/AP

Obama Names New Envoy to Close Guantanamo

The State Department is bringing in a White House legal veteran with deep Democratic ties as part of its latest push to close its detention facility in Cuba.

President Barack Obama named former National Security Council official Lee Wolosky as his new special envoy for Guantanamo closure at the State Department, filling a key post in the administration’s bid to shut down the controversial prison by moving its remaining detainees to foreign countries and the U.S. mainland. Wolosky will assume “lead responsibility” for arranging for the transfer of Guantanamo’s remaining 116 detainees, Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday.

Wolosky’s arrival gives the White House added firepower in its bid with Congress to close the prison before the end of Obama’s second term. That’s an accomplishment few—including Defense Secretary Ash Carter—expect will happen. But last month, Carter and the White House’s chief counterterrorism official, Lisa Monaco, promised Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R.-Ariz., a closure plan is coming soon.

Wolosky, 46, now fills the void left by Clifford Sloan, who stepped down in January after nearly 18 months on the job. He will work closely with Paul Lewis, who holds the counterpart job at the Defense Department. Wolosky, a 1995 graduate of Harvard Law School, was the National Security Council’s director of transnational threats for Presidents Bill Clinton and, briefly, the George W. Bush administration. He left in 2001. Later, Bloomberg in 2013 called his New York law firm “a network of influential Democrats built during his career in counterterrorism, foreign policy and law,” including former National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Secretary of State John Kerry, who brought Wolosky on as his counterterrorism policy advisor during the 2004 presidential campaign.

(Related: SPECIAL REPORT: Beyond Guantanamo)

After reporting the administration was planning a transfer of up to 10 detainees in June, Defense One was first to report on June 12 that six detainees were en route to Oman, the first prisoners to leave Guantanamo since January. Of the 116 detainees currently held at the prison, 51 are still waiting to be transferred. Wolosky will inherit the diplomatic effort behind moving each detainee, while Lewis will continue to work on the security concerns that follow them.

Obama requires six national security agencies—the Offices of the Director of National Intelligence and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as the departments of Defense, State, Justice and Homeland Security—in order to conduct an intelligence review of just one detainee and his potential host country.  

“I'm certainly under no illusions that this is going to be easy,” Wolosky told the Miami Herald Monday.

Well before the rise of the Islamic State, or ISIS, closing Guantanamo has confounded the administration, which has encountered no shortage of critics on Capitol Hill. But right as the president and McCain have taken renewed steps to close the facility, “the circumstances have changed, the world is blowing up around us,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R.-S.C., said in January, adding, “There is no appetite to close Guantanamo Bay.”

And while Obama is enjoying his highest approval rating in two years, a recent Defense One and Government Business Council poll of senior defense workers and troops found only 24 percent supported closing Guantanamo. And as recently as January, nearly half the country opposed closing the prison in the next several years.

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