US names new Guantanamo special envoy

The White House is in the "final stages" of a plan to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, pictured on August 7, 2013 (AFP Photo/Chantal Valery)

Washington (AFP) - Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday appointed a new special envoy to lead the Obama administration's efforts to close the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Lee Wolosky, a lawyer who was the White House's director of transnational threats under both presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, will serve as the State Department's Special Envoy for Guantanamo Closure.

"Lee will lead our ongoing diplomatic engagement to make possible the closure of the Guantanamo detention facility in a timely manner, consistent with American interests and the security of our people," Kerry said in a statement.

He will be the State Department's pointman in arranging transfers of detainees to other countries, and taking part in status reviews of the remaining detainees.

The post had been vacant since the previous special envoy for Guantanamo, Cliff Sloan, stepped down in December 2014.

Wolosky "brings a wealth of experience as an accomplished litigator and pragmatic problem-solver, a skill set that will prove valuable," State Department spokesman John Kirby said.

President Barack Obama made closure of the controversial offshore prison a top priority when he took office in 2009, but Congress has thwarted that goal by blocking the transfer of its inmates to US prisons.

The United States has been slowly sending prisoners either back to their home countries or to a handful of third countries willing to take them.

But 116 inmates remain at Guantanamo, including alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and 14 other so-called "high value" detainees.

At least 51 of the detainees, most of them from Yemen, have been cleared to leave but are languishing at the prison, in part because US officials have yet to conclude resettlement or repatriation agreements for them.

The prison, located at a US naval base on the southeastern tip of Cuba, was opened in January 2002 to hold captured Al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects picked up in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere after the September 11, 2001 attacks.