Transfers, Releases & Resettlements

A Note on Dan Fried

By Benjamin Wittes
Tuesday, January 29, 2013, 10:09 PM

On All Things Considered this evening, NPR's Ari Shapiro ran this story on the closing of Amb. Daniel Fried's Guantanamo resettlement office at State:

The story follows this Charlie Savage piece in the New York Times, which Matt flagged yesterday. Ari quotes me in the story saying some nice things about Fried's work over the last four years and about how challenging his task---convincing governments that what was missing from their polities was a few probably-not-dangerous Guantanamo detainees---really was. But I thought I would say just a little bit more on the subject, because Fried made a real contribution which should not be overlooked as we think about the Obama administration's Guantanamo failure.

Four years ago, there weren't many people warning that the task of closing Guantanamo was going to be hard. Two of them, however, were Jack and me. This being before Lawfare existed, we wrote a little piece in Slate magazine, describing "a raft of hard decisions and trade-offs that won't get any easier simply because the new president's name is not Bush" and cheekily offering "a checklist of the major questions President Obama will face, in rough sequential order, before he can shutter the camp." The checklist, unfortunately, reads pretty well in retrospect. We flagged the major issues that have since hung up Guantanamo closure but that many people at the time chose to ignore. One thing we got wrong, however, was the evident skepticism in the following passage: "the administration will have a tricky time convincing rights-protecting countries to resettle people deemed too dangerous to release here. The new president will thus need to figure out which detainees might be admitted to the United States and then leverage his substantial international prestige to persuade other countries to accept the rest."

In fact, the administration freed no detainees in the United States, yet thanks to Fried and his staff, did a remarkable job resettling detainees elsewhere---especially in Europe. Over the course of the Obama administration, which came in with roughly 250 detainees at Guantanamo, Fried arranged the repatriation of 29 detainees. He also, more impressively, arranged resettlement in third countries of 40 more detainees---along with two others sent to Italy for trial. In other words, even after the Bush administration's long-term efforts to reduce number of people at Guantanamo (more than 500 detainees had left Guantanamo by the time Obama came into office) had left a population for whom case dispositions were particularly difficult, Fried managed to persuade countries to take quite a few more. This was a real service whether or not one thinks Guantanamo should stay or go. Nobody, after all, wants to hold people unnecessarily, and where we can find dispositions for detainees without having to continue to hold them, that's an attractive outcome. Guantanamo is still open---and some of us are not shedding tears over that---but thanks to Fried and his colleagues, a bunch of people who didn't need to be there aren't there any more. America's detention footprint is lighter. And that's a good thing.