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Dan Fried, real American hero

Dan Fried, real American hero

By Christian Brose

This New Republic profile by Michael Crowley of U.S. Ambassador Dan Fried, the man charged with finding foreign homes for many of the Guantanamo detainees, is worth reading:

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."

Full disclosure: I worked with Dan for four years at the State Department, and at the risk of making his life even more difficult by singing his praises on this blog, I’ll say that he is one of the most impressive and talented Foreign Service Officers I encountered. But more than that, he spent the past four years helping to rebuild America’s bridges to our European allies, and rather than doing what any normal person his age would have done — which was retire to make money, or live out his days in peace, or both — Dan chose instead to take the single most thankless job in government because he’s a great American.

As for the ultimate goal of Dan’s job, consider this quote from John Bellinger, who worked as much as anyone to solve this problem in recent years:

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."

What is dawning on the Obama administration is that, in the moral interest of closing Guantanamo, they’ll have to cut some moral corners elsewhere. This is not a new idea, and it’s what makes the prison dilemma so hard. Maybe those "assurances" and "monitoring mechanisms" will hold up. But it’s very possible they won’t, and to some degree the administration will just have to look the other way, or else Guantanamo will be open forever. Other moral corner-cutting might (and likely will) include holding more detainees in Bagram Air Base, or just killing more of them preemptively on the battlefield so as to avoid the whole problem of detention altogether, as Jack Goldsmith suggested this weekend in the Washington Post. There is no easy or morally straightforward answer.

Poor Dan. Poor us.