Hillary Said Appoint a Gitmo Champion; The Opposite Happened

There’s a weird detail in this Daniel Klaidman piece on Obama’s claimed newfound commitment to closing Gitmo.

One of the new details in it describes a memo Hillary Clinton wrote just before she left the State Department.

One recent plea, two sources told Newsweek, came from Hillary Clinton, who, just before she left office in January 2013, sent a two-page confidential memo to Obama about Guantánamo.


Now, in one of her last moves as secretary of State, she was making a final effort to prod her boss to do more. Her memo was replete with practical suggestions for moving ahead on Gitmo. Chief among them: Obama needed to appoint a high-level official to be in charge of the effort, someone who had clout and proximity to the Oval Office. Further, Clinton argued that Obama could start transferring the 86 detainees who’d already been cleared for release. (Congress has imposed onerous restrictions on the administration’s ability to transfer Gitmo detainees—including a stipulation that the secretary of Defense certify that detainees sent to other countries would not engage in acts of terrorism. In her memo, Clinton pointed out that the administration could use “national-security waivers” to circumvent the restriction.)

The Clinton missive perturbed White House aides, who viewed it as an attempt to put them on the spot, according to a senior administration official. It’s unclear how Obama himself reacted to the memo; there’s no evidence that it spurred him to action.

I thought to myself as I read this, “but Clinton’s departure is precisely when the Administration moved backwards on this front, by reassigning Daniel Fried, who had been in charge of resettling detainees.” Fried’s reassignment was reported January 29. That was technically while Hillary was still at State — Kerry took over on February 1.

Still, whoever transferred Fried, she must have written that memo (which pissed off Obama’s minders) at almost precisely the moment State eliminated the person most focused on working towards Gitmo closure.

Klaidman doesn’t entirely ignore this detail. Six paragraphs later he mentions the transfer.

For much of the past few years, without any signal that Obama was going to fight on Gitmo, the policy drifted. Daniel Fried, the veteran State Department official in charge of resettling detainees, was transferred to a different position.

Still, there must be a story explaining why Fried got transferred at precisely the moment Hillary, technically still his boss, was calling to redouble the effort to close Gitmo.

33 replies
  1. GTMO Lawyer says:

    When I read that piece I thought the obvious solution would be to name Hillary as the new envoy. She’s committed, she has the connections, people would listen to her, and given sufficient authority in the White House, she could persuade or override the paranoid fearmongers in Congress and the military and intelligence communities.

  2. Jeff Kaye says:

    Well, Klaidman says the memo, whose exact date we don’t have, came ” just before she left office in January 2013″. That could have been on Jan. 29 (when Fried was reassigned), or even Jan. 30 or Jan 31.

    Still, I think that it’s HRC spin. None of these in the WH, including Obama with Klaidman’s invocation of his “conscience,” really gives a damn about the detainees. On the contrary, under Obama and Clinton, there was a tightening of restrictions, and a policy invoked promoting indefinite detention.

    Fried, by the way, was no great loss. He was in fact a Bush left-over, a former assistant to Condi at State who worked on renditions.

    What we have here is DC kabuki.

    If Obama does move to close Guantanamo it will be from political calculations only. But I don’t have insight in that particular algebra.

  3. Jeff Kaye says:

    And then there was this piece of high irony from the apparently credulous Klaidman:

    Even some of Obama’s top national-security aides were frustrated with the White House’s timid approach toward Congress. John Brennan—then Obama’s counterterrorism czar, now his CIA chief—believed the administration needed to show more backbone in its dealings with Congress, according to a source who spoke with him at the time. Brennan’s outrage was fueled by the knowledge that many detainees, who were still at Guantánamo after years of detention, had no record of terrorism.

  4. emptywheel says:

    @GTMO Lawyer: Superb suggestion. Though I would guess that Hillary’s over risking her credibility by working w/Obama’s paranoid dysfunctional White House.

  5. Ben Franklin says:

    @Jeff Kaye:

    ” frustrated with the White House’s timid approach toward Congress. John Brennan…”,

    “timid’ is not the word I would choose, especially when it comes to CIA.


    “As you know, the JFK Act authorized unprecedented powers for the ARRB, including the ability to overturn an agency decision on declassification, with the President as the only appeal authority. Although agencies did appeal ARRB decisions, President Clinton did not overturn any access determinations on appeal. The power wielded by the ARRB meant that more records were declassified and made available under the JFK Act than would have been released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) or any currently applicable review provision of the prior or current Executive Order on Classified National Security Information.

    “As previously mentioned, the 1,171 remaining postponed documents will be released in 2017, unless the President personally certifies on a document by document basis that continued postponement is necessary and that the harm from disclosure is of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest in disclosure. Moreover, as you point out, the JFK Act clearly intended for periodic releases prior to the 2017 date. To date all of the periodic release dates have been met, including in 2006, when the CIA made preemptory releases of all documents that were postponed from release until 2010. Thus, the only documents in the Collection that are still withheld in full for classification reasons are the 1,171 CIA documents that the ARRB agreed should not be released until 2017.”

  6. Bitter Angry Drunk says:

    I can’t wait till 2016 when the faux libs will mention this in their support of Hilary. Kind of the inverse of ’08 when they backed O over Clinton because he wasn’t in Congress when she voted for the AUMF.

    I see no difference between Obama and Clinton as politicians…

  7. Peterr says:

    @emptywheel: I beg to differ.

    “She’s committed, she has the connections, . . .”

    No argument here.

    “. . . people would listen to her, . . .”

    Some people, maybe, but none in DC with an R after their name.

    “. . . and given sufficient authority in the White House, . . .”

    That’s a mighty big ‘given’, as some in the WH (say, Biden’s office?) might oppose such a move.

    “. . . she could persuade or override the paranoid fearmongers in Congress and the military and intelligence communities.”

    *blows whistle*

    Sorry, I was with you until this last part.

    Hillary is not going to persuade anyone in the GOP to do anything, as their paranoia would kick in as soon as she made an appointment to talk with them. Also, too, Bengazi!!!

    This is the one place where getting a Republican to carry the water would be essential. It would take someone closer to a Ken Starr, not a Hillary Clinton, to persuade the obstructionists in Congress to change their minds.

    I’d almost be willing to bet that the Gitmo detention center will last longer than the embargo of Cuba. Like the situation with Cuba, for the right wing Gitmo has gone from being a tactical military/intelligence matter to an infallible, immutable theological article of faith that cannot be questioned.

  8. What Constitution says:

    @Peterr: Ken Starr! Everybody, he said “Ken Starr”! And in the context of potentially achieving something positive in nature? You lost me there. But up to that point, I agree with you.

  9. Nell says:

    Maybe Sec. Clinton reassigned Fried at the same time as she wrote the memo, and for the same reason — to put the White House on the spot while removing the excuse that there was already a point person. I’m not one to jump to HRC’s defense in any situation, to put it mildly, and am not attributing either act to noble motives.

    It’s clear Obama only began to care about this again because of the hunger strike making him look bad. His plan up until then had been to hope that everyone would just shut up about the situation he helped create and maintain (two-tier justice system with the kangaroo military commissions for some and civilian trials for others, and zero effort to change the public’s understanding of who most of the prisoners at Guantanamo are).

    Anyone who wants to argue that Obama is the helpless victim of right-wing obstruction and opposition needs to explain this behavior, which was visible to anyone with their eyes open from the beginning (below is from a blog comment in Feb.2009:

    :: Obama and members of his administration have not only not gotten out in front of the right-wing propaganda designed to portray all the prisoners as dangerous and any release as risky, but actively participated in it.

    One large and largely overlooked example: Obama’s interview with Matt Lauer just before the Super Bowl was his first sit-down on U.S. television since the inauguration; it had, intentionally, an enormous audience. There is no way, then, to paint this from Obama as anything but a deliberate effort to feed the paranoia that has made release of the Uighurs into the U.S. difficult. Remember as you read that there are only about 250 prisoners total at Guantanamo: “we’ve got a couple of hundred [!!} of hardcore militants [!!] that, unfortunately, because of some problems that we had [!!]previously in gathering evidence, we may not be able to try in ordinary courts –- but we don’t want to release [!!].

    It’s very hard to give someone the benefit of the doubt when he says something to one of the biggest TV audiences of the year that could have been said by Dick Cheney with a one-word change (Cheney would have said ‘terrorist’ for ‘militant’). ::

  10. john francis lee says:

    ‘ Still, there must be a story explaining why Fried got transferred at precisely the moment Hillary, technically still his boss, was calling to redouble the effort to close Gitmo. ‘

    In order to play comentarians such as yourselves. Clinton waited ’til she was on theway out the door to drop this back-stabbing memo, not on her former comrades, but on you in the commentariat.

    It has no real meaning. It is for its effect only. And you bit and are pushing it along and on its way. Clinton’s running for president in 2016 … if the old bat lives that long. She probably will. Only the good … and the ones she’s sent to war … die young.

  11. HotFlash says:

    I do not understand why the Bastille is popularly considered to be a Very Bad Thing, but Guantanamo, well, unh, maybe, whatever. We should be swimming over there as a nation and breaking down the doors to make them stop torturing people. But, oooh — American Idol!

  12. joanneleon says:

    @HotFlash: And swimming is exactly what the revolutionaries would have to do because they canceled all the commercial flights to make it harder for the media to get there (and the Red Cross, but who’s counting!?)

    Well I guess we’re forgetting about boats…

  13. joanneleon says:

    @john francis lee: Once they get all decked out in their riot and SWAT gear, how can you tell the difference between the civilian law enforcement and the DoD personnel (especially when they are driving their Bearcat tanks around in their cammies?)

    And people say Obama doesn’t have a jobs program.

    A couple of weeks ago I walked by one of the official black Suburban things outside of our peaceful town of 28K courthouse. I don’t know if our taxes paid for that or who it belonged to. I thought we just had regular police cars. To get into the town hall/courtroom, now you have to go through a search and metal detector and you get questioned. If you go to the bathroom, you have to loop around and go through the security again. Most of the cases are speeding tickets or the like, maybe some shoplifting or drug possession. Some significant percentage of people in the courtroom are officials and lawyers. The security is a recent thing, I think — past few years.

    Recently they put our high school on Tier 1 lock down for half the day when they found a car a half mile away in a doctor’s office parking lot with some ammo sitting on the seat and an empty holster, no driver. Though at the time, with two of my kids in the school, I figured that it was a reasonable precaution given all the school shootings in this country. But having Homeland Security show up and shut down some main roads, etc. and a bomb squad who did something with a bag that was in the back seat, seemed kind of overkill.

    I don’t think we have a Lenco Bearcat yet. Check out the marketing video:

  14. peasantparty says:

    I can’t remember the name officially of the task force Obama created to monitor GTMO detainees. Ah, shoot! I think it was late 2008, or early 2009 when he did it and the group was supposed to monitor and advise on release of detainees as their situations progressed.

    Was this Fried Jerk, by happenstance a member of that task force group at the time? Better yet; are we still paying positions for this group that appear to do nothing? I gotta do some research on it, but I’m sure EW has it documented somewhere. She always does! ;-)

  15. peasantparty says:

    I will need to question C. R. about the members of the task force, but I do know that AG Holder named the executive director, Matthew Olsen.

    Asa Hutchinson may have been a member also. I will ask the great C.R. for a list of members.

  16. P J Evans says:

    They do x-ray with courthouse security where I am. They have photos of some of the stuff they’ve found – belt buckles with concealed knives, that sort of thing. They really do worry about people bringing in weapons, or things that can be used as weapons (no knitting, no scissors if you have embroidery. But they’ve improved the waiting rooms for the jury pools, since judges get summoned now.

  17. peasantparty says:

    @peasantparty: The famous, C.R. responded to my question. It appears that the actual names of these people are hidden to everyone. I think accountability in these areas would make all kinds of stuff run better. Of course, our Govt. seriously does not wish for a smooth running apparatus.

    For now, no names. Yet, after 4 years of the beginning of the task force, we are still in the same position. Hillary, at least made suggestions. Those in the admin and DOD seem to be blocking everything!

  18. What Constitution? says:

    @Peterr: Too many levels of snark going on around here, sorry. It’s just that the situation so calls for it, huh?

  19. JohnT says:

    @Jeff Kaye:

    x 1,000

    It’s politics. She’s had how many years to say, or do something? And now, her big move is to write a memo? Gosh, hope she didn’t get carpal tunnel syndrome

  20. john francis lee says:


    Thanks for the description of the security state, USA. Sounds like the consulate in Chiang Mai. I hate going there, it’s like visiting a very hostile foreign country – my own. I haven’t been home in 10 years. I’m probably on a no-fly list and couldn’t return if I decided to. Saying bad – true – things about the USG is surely terrorism by now.

    But … doesn’t that link describe the US generals’ claim to have discovered their right to coup at will? just like here in Thailand? or do you have to be a lawyer not to be upset by such … now daily occurrences?

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