WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel named a veteran Capitol Hill lawyer today to rejuvenate the Pentagon’s flagging efforts to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay.
Paul Lewis, a Democratic lawyer for the House Armed Services Committee and a former judge advocate in the Marine Corps, will take the Pentagon’s newly created job of special envoy for Guantanamo closure. He will start Nov. 1.
Lewis will work with Clifford Sloan, who holds a similar post in the State Department, to revive the administration’s attempts to empty the prison at Guantanamo, which holds 164 inmates who were captured overseas after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
President Obama promised to close the U.S. detention facility in Cuba during his first campaign for president, in 2008, and has repeated the pledge multiple times since, most recently in May, when he announced that he would create special-envoy positions in the State and Defense departments to press the issue. But his efforts have been blocked by Congress, which has prevented him from transferring Guantanamo inmates to prisons in the United States and imposed other obstacles.
About half the remaining prisoners at Guantanamo have been approved for transfer to other countries. But the administration has moved slowly to do so because of concerns that the prisoners would be maltreated there or only loosely monitored. About one-third of the remaining inmates are Yemeni.
Over the past year, the Pentagon has transferred only two prisoners; two Algerians were sent home in August.
Lewis has been responsible for Guantanamo issues as general counsel for Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee. He has held other posts in Congress and previously worked as a lawyer in the Pentagon.