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Is the Obama Administration Preparing to Transfer a Large Number of Detainees?

1:13 PM, Mar 11, 2009 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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The Associated Press is reporting that the Obama administration is prepared to name "veteran diplomat Daniel Fried" as the "special envoy to oversee the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp." Since announcing that Guantanamo would be closed by early 2010, President Obama has not said much about what his specific plan will be for handling the detainees. A large number of the detainees (more than 90 of the 247 or so who are still there) are Yemeni, and the Obama administration has said that they are considering repatriating them to Yemen. Steve Hayes and I have discussed the problems with this approach here and here. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also discussed the prospect of transferring Gitmo detainees to European nations during her travels earlier this month.

Thus, it appears that the Obama administration is gearing up to transfer a large number of detainees. The latest AP account only adds to this view. The AP, relying on anonymous Obama administration officials, notes: "Fried is currently assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, a position he held during the Bush administration, and part of his new job will be negotiating the transfers of Guantanamo inmates to third countries, mainly in Europe…"

The AP explains:

As Guantanamo envoy, Fried will be working with officials from the Pentagon and Justice Department as well as foreign governments on the specifics of closing the camp. He will also work with the State Department's ambassador at-large for war crimes, who has been leading negotiations on detainee transfers, the officials said.

Fried, who declined to comment on the job, has forged close relations with governments throughout Europe, where a move is afoot to accept Guantanamo inmates who have been determined to not pose a threat but who cannot be sent back to their homelands because of the risk of persecution.

Several European nations, including Portugal and Lithuania, have said they will consider taking such detainees.

Roughly 60 Guantanamo detainees have been cleared for transfer or release by the DOD. As the AP notes, they "cannot be returned to their homelands because they could face abuse, imprisonment or death." But it does not appear that these are the only detainees being considered for transfer.

We are left with the following questions, among others:

(1) Per the AP account, Fried seems to have been picked to lead this effort because of his ability to negotiate the transfers of detainees. Does this mean that the Obama administration intends to transfer the majority of the remaining detainees?

(2) Has the Obama administration determined which detainees can be transferred or released yet? According to press accounts, it seems as though the details are still to be worked out.

(3) How many detainees will be tried and how will they be tried (in an ordinary criminal court, or some new court system)?

(4) Will Fried negotiate the repatriation of detainees to Yemen? If so, how do Fried and the Obama administration intend to deal with the many problems Yemen poses, including the strong likelihood that the detainees will rejoin al Qaeda's jihad?

(5) What other nations will take detainees? And how will Fried and the Obama administration make sure that detainees transferred to these nations do not "return to terrorism"?