Obama’s prison: last-ditch push to close Guantanamo

(By Deutsche Welle) US President Barack Obama’s new Guantanamo envoy has 18 months to close the infamous prison. Lee Wolosky will face election-year politics and a deeply skeptical Congress. Mission impossible? Spencer Kimball reports.

He was inaugurated on a Tuesday. The following Thursday, President Barack Obama signed an executive order to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Leading Republicans and Democrats agreed that the prison had become a propaganda tool for America’s enemies and a distraction to her allies. The plan was to shut Guantanamo down within a year.

But a president sets priorities and the candidate of change had more immediate concerns. The economy was a wreck and nearly 50 million Americans had no health insurance. After Republicans took control of Congress in 2010, they refused to allocate money to close Guantanamo.

Six years and two special envoys later, the detention facility remains open. Last Tuesday, the administration appointed Lee Wolosky as the State Department’s Special Envoy for Guantanamo Closure. The position had been vacant for six months.

Wolosky, an attorney, was the director of Transnational Threats under the Clinton administration and early in the Bush administration. John Bellinger, who served on President Bush’s National Security Council, has known Wolosky for two decades.

“Lee Wolosky has experience inside Washington with counterterrorism on the White House staff and ought to be able to – if anyone can – persuade a very skeptical Republican Congress that he and the president have a plan to close Guantanamo,” Bellinger told DW.

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With US POW Bergdahl free, prisoner swap sparks controversy in Washington

(By Deutsche Welle) Five years ago, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl went missing from his post and fell into Taliban hands, making him the only known US prisoner of war. The prisoner swap that led to his release has sparked controversy in Washington.

US lawmakers are claiming that the White House has created a possible security risk by freeing five Taliban detainees in exchange for US army soldier Bowe Bergdahl’s freedom. They have also accused the administration of breaking the law by failing to notify Congress 30 days in advance.

Representative Buck McKeon and Senator James Inhofe, chairman and ranking member of the House and Senate Armed Service Committees respectively, celebrated Bergdahl’s release in a joint statement. But they expressed concern that the prisoner swap could provide an incentive for the Taliban to take further captives.

“America has maintained a prohibition on negotiating with terrorists for good reason,” the two Republicans wrote. “Trading five senior Taliban leaders from detention in Guantanamo Bay for Bergdahl’s release may have consequences for the rest of our forces in Afghanistan.”

But Stephen Biddle, a national security expert at The George Washington University, believes that the criticisms leveled by members of Congress against the Obama administration are weak.

“This idea that it will encourage further hostage taking – there’s no encouragement needed,” Biddle told DW. “For years before now, the limiter on how many American captives the Taliban take is how many they are able to get.”

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