Prisoners Dilemma

The New Republic

You have read:

0 / 8

free articles in the past 30 days.

Already a subscriber?

Log in here

sign up for unlimited access for just $34.97Sign me up

JUNE 17, 2009

Prisoners Dilemma

Daniel Fried may have the most thankless job in Washington. While
Barack Obama got to deliver the dazzling promise that he would close
the Guantanamo Bay prison camp and turn the page on America's
global image, Fried has been left to handle the hardest part of
that task: finding new homes for the Guantanamo detainees who, for
political or legal reasons, can neither be tried nor imprisoned in
the United States. Perhaps half the 240 detainees now in custody
will have to be relocated to countries other than their native
lands because they risk being tortured there (or worse) upon their
return. For Fried, that means shuttling endlessly between foreign
capitals to plead for help, and often to be met by extortionist
demands and haughty lectures from foreign diplomats. It is grueling
work, making the respected career diplomat something like a
door-to-door salesman peddling the human equivalent of radioactive
waste.But perhaps the hardest part is handling the obstacles that keep
cropping up in Washington itself. First, there's the ticking clock
of Barack Obama's pledge to shut Guantanamo by January 2010--a bold
statement that defied the warnings of advisers who said that, if
closing Guantanamo were easy, George W. Bush would have made good
on his own stated wishes to do so himself. Then, there's the craven
opportunism of members of Congress who want to look tough on
terrorism by vowing to block any effort to resettle the wrongly
detained here in America. "It is a tough job, to put it mildly,"
says Fried. Or, as one friend simply commented after the latest
round of congressional grandstanding against accepting the
detainees, "Poor Dan."

Thankless work isn't a new experience for Fried. As the State
Department's desk officer and ambassador to Poland in the mid- and
late 1980s, Fried found himself in the minority arguing in favor of
greater U.S. engagement with Eastern Europe's emerging democratic
movements. To this day, Fried keeps a poster in his office of Gary
Cooper wearing High Noon cowboy garb and walking toward a duel--but
with a ballot in hand instead of a six-shooter. The image adorns a
Solidarity poster in advance of Poland's June 4, 1989, democratic
election, which brought an end to communist rule. Fried calls it a
reminder of the perils of realism, whose proponents argued at the
time against engaging with the nascent democracies in Eastern
Europe. "I was a very lonely person," he says of his efforts. "He
is a very effective diplomat, but he also has a very strong streak
of idealism," says Fried's longtime friend Tom Malinowski,
Washington advocacy director of Human Rights Watch.

Fried was also something of a lonely figure within the Bush
administration, where he handled European issues on the National
Security Council before becoming assistant secretary of state for
Europe in May 2005. Although he played the part of loyal soldier,
Fried was never much of a W. man at heart. He never relished the
bashing of "old Europe," and, in particular, he "was very unhappy
with the impact of the Bush administration's Guantanamo and
detainee policies and was strongly in favor of changing them," says
a former colleague. Fried confided in this person a sense of "moral
obligation" to reverse the damage to America's image abroad.

Friends and colleagues describe Fried as genial but highly driven, a
diminutive long-distance runner who is such a workaholic that he is
currently walking with a severe limp after a knee injury because
his work schedule hasn't left time for surgery. He can also be a
fierce bureaucratic infighter. For decades, he has sparred with
another former ambassador to Poland, Christopher Hill, now U.S.
ambassador to Iraq--who, as a fellow State Department desk officer,
was among those skeptical of Lech Walesa's Solidarity movement; for
years thereafter, Fried and Hill reportedly sniped and undercut one
another within the foreign policy bureaucracy. The combination of
idealism, experience, and bureaucratic toughness cheered human
rights advocates when Obama officials revealed their plan to tap
Fried for the Gitmo portfolio.

But Fried has been limping, as it were, from the start. Though word
of his job was leaked in March, his appointment didn't happen until
mid-May--thanks to a small-minded Senate delay of the confirmation
of his successor, Phil Gordon, due to Gordon's position on the
arcane but politically charged issue of the Armenian genocide. The
administration was also slow to assemble a task force to pore
through the files of the Guantanamo detainees and make
determinations about how each should be treated, a process
scheduled to finish in July but likely to drag on longer.

At the moment, Fried is largely focused on the question of what to
do with the roughly 50 to 60 detainees whom the Bush and/or Obama
administrations have "cleared," meaning that they won't be charged
with any crimes and don't pose a major risk to U.S. security. The
obvious answer would be to send them home-- except that, in most of
these cases, home means a place like Algeria, Tunisia, Libya,
Egypt, or Syria, where many of the men would be greeted with torture
and possibly execution. (One Libyan detainee who returned home in
2006 after detention at a CIA "black site" was found dead in his
prison cell last month after reports of torture by his jailors.
Seven more Libyans remain at Guantanamo.)

Though few noticed it, the Bushies spent years doggedly hunting for
new places to settle these same men. "It was like a duck--calm on
the surface but paddling furiously beneath the water," says John
Bellinger, a former top legal adviser to the Bush State Department.
But it wasn't easy. The dilemma is exemplified by the case of 17
Chinese Muslim separatists known as Uighurs, who visited
Afghanistan to train for their indigenous fight against Beijing but
apparently never fought or plotted against the United States. With a
return to China tantamount to a death sentence for the Uighurs,
Bush officials asked roughly 100 countries to take them in. They
found only two takers: the tiny Pacific island nation of Kiribati,
to which the Uighurs said "thanks, but no thanks," according to one
source, and Muslim Albania, which accepted five men in 2006 but,
under severe pressure from China, will accept no more.

The progress under Obama has been similarly slight: In February,
Britain accepted a one-time U.K. resident of Ethiopian descent who
was arrested in Pakistan in 2002; and, earlier this month, France
took in a lone Algerian arrested for plotting an anti-U.S. attack
in Bosnia, a move the Associated Press described as "a gesture" to
the new president. But Obama needs more than gestures. And Fried
seems to be struggling to make that happen.

Thus far, Europe has seemed like the most promising destination,
because of both popular support for Obama there and Fried's
extensive experience on the continent. "He knows the Europeans
better than anyone in government," says Matthew Waxman, a Columbia
University law professor who handled detainee issues during the
Bush administration. But Fried turned up few takers last month
during his first swing through European capitals. He won't name
specific countries, but, in early May, word leaked word that Fried
visited Berlin with Attorney General Eric Holder, where the men
asked Germany to accept ten Gitmo Uighurs. The German government
says it is considering the request, but the prospects look dim:
Bavaria's interior minister has called the idea "extremely naive,"
and asked why the United States can't take the Uighurs.

Further sabotaging Fried's efforts is the recent political posturing
on Capitol Hill. In recent weeks, several key members from both
parties in Congress, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid,
have declared their firm opposition to allowing Guantanamo
detainees into the United States, including ones who would be
locked up in a supermax prison. Even the Uighurs are anathema to
many members of Congress. Although press reports have suggested that
the Obama administration might place a few Uighurs in northern
Virginia, the state's two Democratic senators, Jim Webb and Mark
Warner, have expressed strong and conditional opposition,
respectively. Republican Congressman Frank Wolf, who represents the
area, says he doesn't care who the Uighurs went to Afghanistan to
fight. "A terrorist is a terrorist is a terrorist," he recently
told Fox News.

And the more members of Congress fulminate over the idea of allowing
detainees on U.S. soil, the more foreign countries blanch. "We want
to be helpful. But I think it's going to be really tough to sell
new detainees if the U.S. doesn't make any gesture on their own
territory," says one European diplomat. While his country sincerely
wants to help, he says, the diplomat concedes it is unlikely to
accept more than a token handful of detainees, thanks in part to a
wary public whose view is "Guantanamo wasn't our idea." "The
exaggerated quality of much of the debate in the U.S. has obviously
hurt," Fried concedes.

That's why some observers say that the more important diplomacy
isn't overseas, but on Capitol Hill, where Obama finds himself at
cross-purposes with ostensible allies like Reid and Webb. Any
official act by Congress to prohibit the transfer of any detainees
to the United States, says Malinowski, of Human Rights Watch,
"would be deadly for Dan's efforts."

But Fried has other things to worry about. Beyond the hodgepodge of
60 cleared detainees of mixed nationalities, he must also find
homes for many of the 97 Yemenis now in U.S. custody, few of whom
are expected to be charged. The Obama team had hoped to send them
back to Yemen, but a recent spike in Al Qaeda activity there, plus
Yemen's outlandish reported demand of a $1-million payoff per
detainee has Fried hunting elsewhere in the region--a game of
Middle Eastern politics less suited to his background. "Dan's going
to need to reach out far beyond Europe," says Sarah Mendelson,
director of the Human Rights and Security Initiative at the Center
for Strategic and International Studies.

Ultimately, says Bellinger, the former Bush official, it may be
impossible to find homes in humane countries for the vast majority
of the men at Guantanamo. As a fallback, the United States might
have to repatriate some of the men to their repressive home
countries after all--which would leave Fried the task of winning
promises of good treatment from those governments. "Those are some
of the toughest negotiations," says Bellinger, "where we say we
have to have high-level, ironclad, specific assurances that
[detainees] will not be mistreated, but with some kind of
monitoring mechanism."

Fried doesn't pretend that the road ahead will be easy. But he
clearly wishes he could have more support from members of Congress
who don't seem to appreciate that the Obama administration doesn't
want dangerous terrorists running loose any more than they do. "I'm
not unrealistic about terrorism," says Fried, who was in the White
House on September 11. "I was in the situation room when they sent
our names out to an off-site, so that, in case we were hit, they
wouldn't have to do that tedious work with dental records. So I am
perfectly aware of the threat that terrorism poses." But keeping
Guantanamo open poses its own kind of threat, he notes. And that's
why the clock is ticking: eight months and counting. Poor Dan,
indeed.

share this article on facebook or twitter

print this article

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS

You must be a subscriber to post comments. Subscribe today.

Back to Top

SHARE HIGHLIGHT

0 CHARACTERS SELECTED

TWEET THIS

POST TO TUMBLR

SHARE ON FACEBOOK