US President Barack Obama has chosen a high-powered Washington lawyer with extensive experience in all three branches of the government to be the State Department's special envoy for closing down the military-run prison at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.
Clifford Sloan will reopen the State Department's Office of Guantanamo Closure, shuttered since January and folded into the department's legal adviser's office when the administration, in the face of congressional obstacles, effectively gave up its attempt to close the prison.
A formal announcement of Sloan's appointment was expected yesterday, according to officials briefed on the matter.
Sloan has served in senior government positions in both Democratic and Republican administrations. For the past several years, he has been an informal adviser to Secretary of State John Kerry, who recommended him for the post, the officials said.
"Cliff and I share the president's conviction that Guantanamo's continued operation isn't in our security interests ," Kerry said in a statement.
The move fulfils part of Obama's pledge last month to renew efforts to close the Guantanamo detention centre. That was a major promise in his 2008 presidential campaign, but it ran aground due to opposition from congressional Republicans.
Word of Sloan's appointment follows the Republican-controlled House's overwhelming passage Friday of a US$638 billion defence bill that would block Obama from closing the detention facility. The House of Representatives acted despite a White House veto threat.
Officials said Sloan, whose diverse government experience includes clerking for liberal Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens and conservative prosecutor Kenneth Starr, would focus primarily on navigating between the administration and Congress to overcome the deep, largely partisan divide over closing Guantanamo.
"It will not be easy, but if anyone can effectively navigate the space between agencies and branches of government, it's Cliff," Kerry said. "He's someone respected by people as ideologically different as Kenneth Starr and Justice Stevens, and that's the kind of bridge-builder we need to finish this job."