WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama should appoint a White House official to help transfer 86 Guantanamo detainees who have been cleared for release to other countries, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said in a letter to the White House. High-level leadership "is critical to advancing the goal of closing GITMO," Levin wrote in the letter his office released Thursday.
Levin's comments came amid an ongoing crisis at the military's Guantanamo prison in Cuba, where 100 of the 166 detainees are officially recognized as hunger strikers by the U.S. military. Twenty-four Guantanamo detainees are being force-fed at least twice a day, Lt. Col. Samuel House said in an email from the naval base on Thursday morning.
Many of the hunger-striking detainees are among those cleared for transfer. The military has had dispatch additional medical personnel to Guantanamo to deal with the hunger strikers.
Levin's letter made clear that the failure to close Guantanamo couldn't be blamed entirely on Congress, which has placed restrictions on the administration that made closing the facility more difficult.
"I recognize that Congress has made the process of relocating GITMO detainees to third countries more difficult by imposing certification requirements on such transfers," Levin wrote in the May 6 letter to White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler. "However, more than a year ago, I successfully fought for a national security waiver that provides a clear route for the transfer of detainees to third countries in appropriate cases, i.e., to make sure the certification requirements do not constitute an effective prohibition."
Obama, Levin wrote, should "appoint an official inside the White House to spearhead an interagency effort to determine which of the more than eighty detainees who have already been cleared for transfer by the Guantanamo Detainee Review Task Force meet the certification (and waiver) requirements, and to actively work for their transfer." Daniel Fried resigned as special envoy to close the Guantanamo prison facility earlier this year and was not replaced.
Obama said during a press conference last week that he would renew his effort to close Guantanamo, which he originally promised to shut by early 2010.
The president is "considering a range of options for ways that we can reduce the population there and move toward ultimate closure, some of which we can take on our own but some of which will require working with the Congress, which we hope will engage more productively on this process than it has in the past," National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in an email on Thursday. "I don’t have any announcements today, but we welcome Chairman Levin’s leadership on this issue and will continue to work with him towards the President’s goal of closing Guantanamo."
Daphne Eviatar of Human Rights First said Levin's request is a "step in the right direction in moving forward to close Guantanamo.” The Obama administration "has been reluctant to use all of the tools available to relocate the detainees who have been cleared for transfer," she said.