Pentagon names special envoy for Guantanamo prison closure

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 08, 2013 10:47 AM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Tuesday named congressional committee attorney Paul Lewis as a special envoy to work on closing the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The announcement was part of President Barack Obama's renewed push to close the prison, which remains open despite his 2009 pledge to shutter the facility within a year. Obama pledged in April to reinvigorate the closure effort amid a hunger strike by detainees that led to their force-feeding.

Lewis currently works as an attorney for the Democratic minority on the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, where he deals with Guantanamo-related issues.

"Special Envoy Lewis brings a wealth of experience from his previous position," the Pentagon said in a statement.

Lewis, who served as a judge advocate in the Marine Corps, also has worked as the general counsel for the House Armed Services Committee and previously was an attorney for the Defense Department in the Office of Legislative Counsel.

He will take up the special envoy posting on November 1, the Pentagon said.

Obama created two special envoy positions to work on closing Guantanamo. Attorney Clifford Sloan was appointed in June to be the State Department envoy. Lewis would serve as his counterpart at the Pentagon.

Obama campaigned on a pledge to close the base, created under his Republican predecessor George W. Bush to detain prisoners held in the U.S. war against al Qaeda following the September 11, 2001, attacks. But resistance in Congress and difficulty finding countries willing to take the inmates has prevented the closure.

The Pentagon said 164 prisoners are still being held at Guantanamo. A small number are still engaged in a hunger strike.

(Reporting by David Alexander and Susan Heavey; Editing by Vicki Allen)