WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama has chosen a high-powered Washington lawyer with extensive experience in all three branches of the government to be the State Department's special envoy for closing down the military-run prison at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.
Clifford Sloan is the pick to reopen the State Department's Office of Guantanamo Closure, shuttered since January and folded into the department's legal adviser's office when the administration, in the face of congressional obstacles, effectively gave up its attempt to close the prison.
A formal announcement of Sloan's appointment was expected Monday, according to officials briefed on the matter. They spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the appointment publicly before the formal announcement.
Sloan has served in senior government positions in both Democratic and Republican administrations and is now a partner in the Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom LLP law firm. For the past several years, he has been an informal adviser to Secretary of State John Kerry, who recommended him for the post, the officials said.
"I appreciate his willingness to take on this challenge," Kerry said in a statement. "Cliff and I share the president's conviction that Guantanamo's continued operation isn't in our security interests."
The move fulfills part of Obama's pledge last month to renew efforts to close the military-run detention center at Guantanamo. That was a major promise in his 2008 presidential campaign, but it ran aground due to opposition from congressional Republicans.
In late May, Obama lifted a self-imposed ban on transferring Guantanamo detainees to Yemen, in what was a step toward closing a prison that he said "has become a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law." He said he would name envoys at both the State Department and Pentagon to try to unblock the closure process. The Pentagon envoy position has yet to be filled.
Word of the Sloan's appointment comes follows the House's overwhelming passage Friday of a $638 billion defense bill that would block Obama from closing the detention facility. The House acted despite a White House veto threat.
The administration cited Guantanamo's prohibitive costs and role as a recruiting tool for extremists. A hunger strike by more than 100 of the 166 prisoners protesting their conditions and indefinite confinement has prompted the fresh calls for closure. Obama is pushing to transfer 86 approved detainees to their home countries. Fifty-six of the 86 are from Yemen.
Officials said Sloan, whose diverse government experience includes clerking for liberal Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens and conservative prosecutor Kenneth Starr, would focus primarily on navigating between the administration and Congress to overcome the deep, largely partisan divide over closing Guantanamo.
"It will not be easy, but if anyone can effectively navigate the space between agencies and branches of government, it's Cliff," Kerry said. "He's someone respected by people as ideologically different as Kenneth Starr and Justice Stevens, and that's the kind of bridge-builder we need to finish this job."
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Located between Guantanamo's Camp Five and Camp Six.
Guantanamo detainee received physical therapy
A skinny Guantanamo detainee receives physical therapy on Tuesday, April 16, 2013.
Empty cell block
A cell block at Guantanamo's Camp VI that had been occupied until a raid on April 13, 2013. One detainee had written "stop tortur us. stop desclate our relgion" on the wall of his cell. The officer in charge of the facility said that detainees had hoarded all types of materials in the communal area.
Guantanamo Camp VI video feeds
A Guantanamo guard looks over a video screen at Camp VI at Guantanamo in April. Detainees had blocked 147 of the prison's 160 cameras, according to a military official.
Water bottles filled with gravel were amongst the weapons officials said they confiscated from detainees after the raid in April.
Other weapons included broom sticks and shanks.
A guard checks on detainees in a sparsely populated block of Guantanamo's Camp Six in April.
Guantanamo Medical Facility
Military officials show journalists the room where some detainees were being force fed during the ongoing hunger strike at the facility.
Force Feeding chair
A restraining chair used to feed detainees at Guantanamo.
Cans of Ensure at Guantanamo
A guard displays cans of Ensure used to force feed detainees at Guantanamo.
A handprint is shown on a Camp VI cell block that was occupied by a detainee until a raid in mid-April.
A shoe from a detainee left on the now-empty cell block.
Cameras are everywhere in Guantanamo's Camp VI, even inside the shower.
The second level of an empty cell block in Camp VI as seen from below.
Camp VI Sign
A sign outside Guantanamo's Camp VI.
Guantanamo Flag At Half Staff
A flag flying over Guantanamo's Camp Six flys at half staff in honor of victims of Boston Marathon massacre.
Camp Five Guards
Guards at Camp Five stand watch during morning prayers.
Camp Five Cell Block
An empty cell block in Guantanamo's Camp Five.
Face shields intended to prevent guards from being hit in the face by "cocktails" of urine, feces and semen.
A guard hands water to a detainee on the Bravo block of Guantanamo's Camp Five.
Dead Banana Rat
A dead banana rat on the road to Guantanamo's prison facilities.
Sunrise By Guantanamo's Camp Five
Obama, Hagel On Joint Detention Group Board
President Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel pictured at the headquarters of Joint Task Force Guantanamo's Joint Detention Group headquarters.