The State Department special envoy responsible for negotiating repatriations and resettlements of Guantánamo detainees is quitting, Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday night.
Clifford Sloan has served as the so-called “Guantánamo closer” for about 18 months. He took the job at the height of a hunger strike at the detention center by the majority of the 166 captives protesting conditions and a lack of movement in President Barack Obama’s pledge to empty the detention center.
Sloan oversaw deals that have so far reduced the prison population to 132 captives through resettlements to such far-flung locations as Slovakia and Uruguay and repatrations to Algeria, Afghanistan and Kuwait. He returns to his private law practice with an undisclosed number of captives still on hunger strike; the U.S. military imposed a blackout on the figures a year ago.
In announcing Sloan’s resignation, Kerry called the Washington, D.C., attorney-turned-envoy “very skillful negotiating with our foreign partners and allies.”
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Foreign Policy first reported the resignation Monday. It quoted Sloan as saying he was “honored to have been able to play a part in making progress” on the president’s goal of emptying the Guantánamo detention center.
Sloan has had a counterpart at the Pentagon since Nov. 1, 2013, Paul Lewis, to help process many of the deals. Lewis in a statement Monday night declared himself “impressed, daily,” by Sloan’s “dedication and commitment.”
The announcement comes as some Republican members of Congress have been increasingly critical of a quickening pace of releases — notably the weekend repatriation of four long-cleared Afghan prisoners.
Over the weekend, Obama told CNN’s Candy Crowley that he was still committed to getting the detention center shut down.
“I’m going to be doing everything I can to close it,” Obama said.
He said the open detention center “continues to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world, the fact that these folks are being held. It is contrary to our values and it is wildly expensive. We’re spending millions for each individual there.”
In announcing Sloan’s departure, Kerry did not say who would replace him.. He is the second man to hold the State Department job after veteran diplomat Dan Fried, who negotiated about 70 repatriations and resettlements but left the job in January 2013 before the hunger strike began.
Kerry called Sloan “the model of someone very successful on the outside who comes in to the State Department and builds relationships instead of burning bridges, gets people on board with a tough assignment, masters the inter-agency process, and just keeps his head down and proves the doubters dead wrong.”
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Read the full statement by Secretary of State John Kerry here.