US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel [official website] named [press release] Paul Lewis as Special Envoy to oversee the eventual closing of Guantanamo Bay [JURIST backgrounder] on Tuesday. Lewis will join his US State Department [official website] counterpart, Clifford Sloan, in working toward closing the detention center. His main duties will relate to the transfer of detainees, including those to be transferred to and within Afghanistan. There are currently 164 prisoners held in Guantanamo. Lewis previously served as General Counsel for the House Armed Services Committee, Chairman of the House Ethics Committee and senior counsel for the House Armed Services Committee. The appointment comes as President Barack Obama [official website] renews his push to close Guantanamo, which he pledged to do in 2009.
Controversies surrounding Guantanamo Bay have been prevalent since the US began using it as a detention center in 2002. Last week a district judge ordered [JURIST report] the release of a mentally ill prisoner. Earlier this month a military judge refused to suspend the pretrial hearings in a case against five Guantanamo Bay prisoners, despite computer system concerns [JURIST reports]. In September, detainee Shaker Aamer [JURIST news archive] filed [JURIST report] a complaint against British security forces for delaying his scheduled release from Guantanamo. Days before, it was announced [JURIST report] that there would no longer be daily updates on detainee hunger strikes. Earlier that month a federal judge ruled [JURIST report] that the US government did not have to release photographs and videotapes taken during the investigation of Mohammed al-Qahtani. Clifford Sloan was appointed [JURIST report] as the State Department envoy in June.