Long-serving Guantánamo bureaucrat retiring

Jay Alan Liotta
Jay Alan Liotta Pentagon photo

The bureaucrat who has steered war-on-terror detention policy longer than anyone is leaving government work.

J. Alan Liotta said Thursday he's retiring Jan. 2 after more than three decades of civil service, calling it “pure coincidence” that he leaves the job around the same time as Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

He has worked on the Guantánamo file and detention policy issues at the Pentagon since early 2004, straddling both the Bush and Obama administrations, mostly with the Defense Department title Principal Director, Office of Detainee Policy.

He said in an interview this week that his departure is “absolutely not” a protest to the latest surge in transfers of Guantánamo detainees — those who left recently and the 10 or so more expected to leave before the end of the year. The Guantánamo releases have stirred unhappiness in Congress, mostly with Republicans.

Liotta said, in fact, that before the Obama administration set up the special envoys to work on closing the detention center he negotiated the transfers of more than 380 of the 640 or so detainees from Guantánamo.

Earlier this week, Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss, who is vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, accused the Obama administration of transferring cleared Guantánamo detainees in “haphazard fashion” and “with varying commitments and cooperation, making further monitoring by the intelligence community and our partners nearly impossible.”

Liotta, who sits on a parole panel that decides whether to recommend an indefinite detainee’s release, said there’s no such thing as total risk mitigation.

“The only way to have a zero re-engagement number is to never let anyone out,” he said, calling that “a position the department has never supported.”

As various political appointees have come and gone from the top job of Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense responsible for detainee policy Liotta has handled it in an acting capacity six times.

There was no word on who would replace him.

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