More than 100 days after President Barack Obama pledged to create a Defense Department position to work on emptying the Guantánamo prison, the post still has not been filled and the Pentagon’s detainee policy post is under interim management.
William K. Lietzau resigned as the top Pentagon official dealing with detainees over the summer. His last day was last week. Meantime, J. Alan Liotta, who had been Lietzau’s deputy, is functioning as “Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Rule of Law & Detainee Policy,” according to a Pentagon spokesman, Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale.
Liotta has been interim boss in the past. He got to the office when it first opened in 2004 in the aftermath of the disclosure of photos showing soldiers abusing detainees at Abu Ghraib, Iraq.
Lietzau’s departure leaves two detainee-related posts to fill at the Pentagon. On May 23, Obama announced that he was appointing a separate Pentagon-based special envoy to work on closing the prison in collaboration with a new State Department envoy.
As of Friday, the prison held 164 detainees — 30 of them on hunger strike and 27 designated for forced nasogastric feedings if they don’t cooperate with Navy medics tasked to renourish them. In June the hunger strike peaked at 106 captives, according to the military’s count.
Captives began quitting the strike in early July once the prison leveraged eating to release from lockdown. Then, last week, the Obama administration sent two long-held Algerian hunger strikers home.
It was the first detainee transfer in nearly a year, and the first arranged by the State Department’s recently assigned “Closure Czar,” Clifford Sloan.
The White House said Thursday evening that creation of the Pentagon position was still an administration goal, but did not explain the delay.
“There’s no change in the policy/direction on this issue from the White House,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said by email.
“We still intend to push forward on repatriating detainees in every instance possible and getting to the closure of Guantánamo, supported by the efforts of envoys at the Departments of State and Defense.”