New State Department appointment to work on closing Guantanamo detention facility – while detainees will apparently will remain at Baghram Airfield in Afghanistan, and in Iraq

The U.S. State Department announced yesterday that “In order to carry out President Obama’s commitment to close the detention facility at Guantanamo within one year, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has determined we need to intensify our efforts to facilitate the transfer of detainees. Secretary Clinton therefore has asked Ambassador Daniel Fried, a seasoned diplomat with a strong record of accomplishment, to lead a dedicated team to address this issue full-time”..

The State Department announcement continued: “Ambassador Fried’s extensive experience will be an invaluable asset as we seek the assistance of foreign governments in moving toward closure of the detention facility. Over the last several years, the task of negotiating transfers of detainees from Guantanamo has fallen to the Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues and his staff, whose primary function historically has been war crimes matters – a full-time job. This shift provides the benefit of also ensuring that the Ambassador at Large and his team can devote their full attention to war crime matters, which are of critical importance to this Administration”.

Meanwhile, there was a news story a couple of weeks ago that reported (on 20 February) that “The Obama administration, siding with the Bush White House, contended Friday that detainees in Afghanistan have no constitutional rights. In a two-sentence court filing, the Justice Department said it agreed that detainees at Bagram Airfield cannot use U.S. courts to challenge their detention … The Supreme Court last summer gave al-Qaida and Taliban suspects held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the right to challenge their detention. With about 600 detainees at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and thousands more held in Iraq, courts are grappling with whether they, too, can sue to be released. Three months after the Supreme Court’s ruling on Guantanamo Bay, four Afghan citizens being detained at Bagram tried to challenge their detentions in U.S. District Court in Washington. Court filings alleged that the U.S. military had held them without charges, repeatedly interrogating them without any means to contact an attorney. Their petition was filed by relatives on their behalf since they had no way of getting access to the legal system.  The military has determined that all the detainees at Bagram are ‘enemy combatants’. The Bush administration said in a response to the petition last year that the enemy combatant status of the Bagram detainees is reviewed every six months, taking into consideration classified intelligence and testimony from those involved in their capture and interrogation. After President Obama took office, a federal judge in Washington gave the new administration a month to decide whether it wanted to stand by Bush’s legal argument. Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd says the filing speaks for itself. ‘They’ve now embraced the Bush policy that you can create prisons outside the law’, said Jonathan Hafetz, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who has represented several detainees. The Justice Department argues that Bagram is different from Guantanamo Bay because it is in an overseas war zone and the prisoners there are being held as part of a military action. The government argues that releasing enemy combatants into the Afghan war zone, or even diverting U.S. personnel there to consider their legal cases, could threaten security. The government also said if the Bagram detainees got access to the courts, it would allow all foreigners captured by the U.S. in conflicts worldwide to do the same”. This story can be read in full here .

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