Former Guantanamo Envoy Says Prison Undermines National Security
ERIC WESTERVELT, HOST:
President Obama has repeatedly pledged to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. That hasn't happened, which has frustrated some administration officials. A hundred and thirty-two prisoners are still being held there. Now Cliff Sloan, the senior State Department official who negotiates detainee transfers from the prison has resigned. Mr. Sloan joins us now in the studio. Thanks for speaking with us.
CLIFF SLOAN: Thank you. Happy to be here.
WESTERVELT: Does your resignation at all reflect frustration with the slow pace of detainee transfers out of Guantanamo Bay?
SLOAN: Absolutely not. I'm leaving now because when I started, I had talked to Secretary Kerry about staying 12 to 18 months, and I stayed the full 18 months to get as much done as we possibly could. And I actually am very pleased that I'm leaving at a time when we have achieved very substantial progress on transfers from Guantanamo.
WESTERVELT: So you've been satisfied with the pace of these transfers and what you've been able to do in your job in these 18 months?
SLOAN: Well, I have been satisfied at the progress that we have been able to make. But Eric, there is one point I also want to emphasize. We're using this phrase, approved for transfer, and I think it is very important that people understand the significance of that. When we say approved for transfer, it means that six departments and agencies unanimously said this person should be transferred because he presents such a low threat, a low risk, and it's in the national interest to transfer that person from Guantanamo.
WESTERVELT: Pentagon officials have long expressed concern that some of those detainees could return to the battlefield and threaten U.S. troops. And some released detainees in the past have returned to the battlefield. Do you share that concern?
SLOAN: Well, of course, everybody wants the number to be zero of any reengagement. But one point that is very important to emphasize is that of those who have gone through that intensive review process, the percentage is very low - it's some 6 percent...
WESTERVELT: To some, that's six percent too high though.
SLOAN: ...That absolutely is 6 percent too high. But well above 90 percent of those who have been transferred after that intensive review are not only not confirmed of engaging in wrongdoing, they're not even suspected of engaging in wrongdoing. But again, everybody would like that number to be zero.
WESTERVELT: Could we expect more transfers in the coming weeks and months?
SLOAN: Yes, definitely. There are more transfers in the pipeline. You're going to see more transfers very soon.
WESTERVELT: Do you think it's a stain on U.S. national security and foreign policy interests that it's still open for business?
SLOAN: I think it undermines U.S. national security. And I can tell you that in a meeting that I had with one of our closest counterterrorism allies, who's on the frontlines of counterterrorism in a country that's not a European country, this official who is a very tough seasoned counterterrorism official told me that the single most important thing that the United States could do to fight terrorism would be to close Guantanamo. And it is wildly expensive, so it's draining vital national resources. You know, the cost of Guantanamo is $3 million per detainee each year.
WESTERVELT: Do you believe any of the remaining prisoners will eventually be transferred to the U.S. to face prosecution?
SLOAN: Yes I do. Now there currently is a ban that Congress has passed on moving people to the U.S. for any purpose. But of the 132, ten of them are facing criminal charges in the military commission system - very serious criminal charges. And I think when we transfer all of those who can be transferred to foreign countries, when there's this small corps that remains, the case for moving them to the United States for detention and prosecution, I think, will be overwhelming. It will make absolutely no sense to keep the Guantanamo detention facility open for this small corps who will remain.
WESTERVELT: Cliff Sloan resigned this week from his job as the U.S. State Department's Special Envoy for Guantanamo Closure. Thanks for coming in.
SLOAN: Thank you. I appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.