Lawyers for six low-level detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, whom Uruguay has offered to resettle sent a letter to the Obama administration on Thursday urging it to act on the deal, which has been awaiting the signature of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel since March.
In addition, a military judge overseeing the war-crimes tribunal against a high-level detainee issued an order this week that generated a new dispute over military commission rules. The order relates to how much classified information about CIA interrogations must be turned over to defense lawyers.
Together, the developments reflect the legal, policy and political difficulties surrounding the prison, which President Barack Obama has tried but failed to close.
Those difficulties escalated after the deal last month that secured the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five former Taliban officials, sent to Qatar. It angered lawmakers in part because the administration bypassed a law requiring 30 days’ notice before transferring Guantánamo detainees.
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In retaliation, the House of Representatives last week added an amendment to a military spending bill that would bar transferring detainees out of Guantánamo for any reason. The Republican-backed moratorium passed 230-184, largely along party lines, but faces an uncertain future in the Senate.
Amid the backlash, Hagel and his advisers have been reluctant to proceed with transfers of even low-level prisoners, according to government officials familiar with internal deliberations.
That would strand at least 11 low-level detainees whose transfer arrangements were cleared months ago but are awaiting Hagel’s approval and the notification to Congress. They include four Afghans the administration agreed in February to repatriate; the six Uruguay’s president has offered to take, officials said; and one other man.
In 2010, an interagency task force recommended that each of the 11 be released if security conditions could be met in the receiving country, but they remain imprisoned without trial. Those Uruguay has offered to resettle are four Syrians, a Tunisian and a Palestinian.
In their letter, obtained by The New York Times, the lawyers asked “if there is any reasonable explanation for prolonged delay to implement the transfer that was agreed upon months ago” and urged action in light of the possibility of new congressional transfer restrictions and elections in Uruguay this fall.
“These men should not be used as scapegoats in the current bout of U.S. partisan politics,” the lawyers said, adding, “Time is not on our side.”
The letter was addressed to Hagel; Cliff Sloan and Paul M. Lewis, detainee transfer envoys at the State and Defense Departments; and three top national security officials at the White House, Susan E. Rice, Lisa O. Monaco and Stephen Pomper.
Also this week, the judge overseeing the case against Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi accused of planning the 2000 bombing of the American destroyer Cole, issued a new order in a dispute over how much information the government must turn over about the CIA’s treatment of Nashiri.
Nashiri’s lawyer, Richard Kammen - along with lawyers in the cases of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other high-level detainees, all accused of aiding the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks - are seeking the information because they plan to argue that the government should not be allowed to execute their clients because the CIA tortured them.
The government does not want to disclose the countries that hosted prisons or the personnel involved. In April, the judge, Col. James L. Pohl of the Army, ordered the government to turn over sweeping details to Nashiri’s lawyer, who has a security clearance, but prosecutors asked him to reconsider.
In his new order, which is not yet public but was described by several people who read it, Pohl reiterated that the details from his original order must be disclosed, but said they would go through a process to substitute summaries for the raw information in order to protect classified material.
It was not clear what that meant. Defense lawyers claimed victory, saying that they would get the raw information and that the substitution process was to determine what they could show their clients and use in open court. But Kammen said prosecutors had indicated that they thought the substitution process came first and defense lawyers would see only the summaries. “There will be many, many months of litigation over all of this, and a trial is not anywhere close,” he said. “If anything, we moved further away from trial.”