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Page last updated at 23:13 GMT, Wednesday, 16 September 2009 00:13 UK

US envoy confident on Guantanamo closure

By Jon Manel
Reporter, BBC Radio 4's PM programme

Daniel Fried: "The average Guantanamo detainee...is not a hardened terrorist, not an organiser"

The man officially responsible for closing Guantanamo Bay says more detainees could be resettled worldwide if some were transferred to the US.

Daniel Fried is the special envoy for closing the detention centre and is in charge of persuading other countries to take in detainees.

He says his job is miserable because he is "cleaning up a problem".

He also revealed he was reprimanded by the UK over his decision to send four detainees to Bermuda.

Daniel Fried has one of the most important and toughest tasks in the US government.

In an exclusive first interview since his appointment, Mr Fried told the BBC about the challenges the US government faces.

'Huge problem'

Ordering the closure of the detention camps at Guantanamo was one of US President Barack Obama's first acts in office.

I've been admonished by the British government in very clear terms
Daniel Fried on the Bermuda deal

Saying it would send "an unmistakable signal", he said the facility had to close by 22 January 2010. However, predictably, it is proving to be difficult.

Working out what to do with the remaining detainees is "a huge problem and a complicated one," says Mr Fried.

So far, the number being held there has been reduced by just 16 - and one of those committed suicide. There are now 226 left.

The administration is reviewing each detainee's case in order to decide which prisoners should be prosecuted, and which should be freed and transferred to another country.

Ambassador Fried is dealing with those who are "cleared for release" by a special task force or by the courts.

Hungary is the latest country which has agreed to take a detainee. Other nations which have already done so or have pledged to help include France, Portugal, Spain, Italy and Belgium.

One of Mr Fried's successes was the deal he struck with Bermuda, which took four Guantanamo prisoners, all of them Chinese Uighurs - an ethnic minority from north-west China. However, Bermuda is a British overseas territory and Britain was not informed until the last minute.

"The British government, it is fair to say, cannot be considered part of the deal," Mr Fried says.

"This was worked out between the Americans and the Bermudans. I will say that I've been admonished by the British government in very clear terms."

'No Plan Bs'

However, he defended the agreement with Bermuda.

"We are very grateful to the Bermudan government and the behaviour of the four Uighurs has been exemplary, which really bolsters our contention that they were not any kind of threat."

"These are four people who are enjoying freedom who would otherwise be in Guantanamo."

Mr Fried's tough job has not been helped by the decision of Congress to block the transfer of any cleared detainees from Guantanamo to the US mainland.

He says he will not criticise Congress, but told me: "It is fair to say, as just an objective statement, that the US could resettle more detainees [worldwide], had we been willing to take in some."

"But I also have to state that parliamentarians in Europe and the US have raised questions about security - and we have to respect those opinions."

Mr Fried said he was confident - but would not guarantee - that the 22 January deadline would be met.

"President Obama's timetable is what we've got, we don't have Plan Bs, we're looking at that timetable. We've got a lot of work to do, we need help getting this done, and we're going to be working hard at it."

"But you're not going to have Guantanamo II. Whatever solution we come up with, it will be one based firmly on the rule of law and transparency."


Update: The headline was changed on 18 September. An earlier headline did not accurately reflect the interviewee's statements.



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