- The Washington Times - Friday, November 13, 2009

TOKYO — The White House lawyer designated by President Obama to unravel the tangle of legal questions on closing the Guantanamo Bay military prison announced his resignation Friday.

The fate of White House counsel Greg Craig had been the subject of speculation since the president’s promise to close the prison by January began to falter.

However, the Obama administration had only praise Friday for Mr. Craig’s efforts.

“Greg Craig is a close friend and trusted adviser who tackled many tough challenges as White House counsel,” Mr. Obama said. “Because of Greg’s leadership, we have confirmed the first Latina justice on the Supreme Court, set the toughest ethics standards for any administration in history, and ensured that we are keeping the nation secure in a manner that is consistent with our laws and our values.

“I’m indebted to Greg not only for leading the counsel’s office but for his many decades of service to this country as well. He has been a huge asset in the White House, and he will be missed. I will continue to call on him for advice in the years ahead.”

Mr. Craig said he plans to leave officially January 3. He will be replaced by Bob Bauer — a veteran Washington lawyer and Obama adviser.

“Bob has served as a trusted counselor for many years to many elected officials and is known as a tough and widely respected advocate,” the president said. “Bob is well-positioned to lead the counsel’s office as it addresses a wide variety of responsibilities, including managing the large amount of litigation the administration inherited, identifying judicial nominees for the federal courts, and assuring that White House officials continue to be held to the highest legal and ethical standards.”

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was emphatic that Mr. Craig was not leaving because the president was dissatisfied with his work.

He spoke almost wistfully about the departure, saying Mr. Craig was “in some ways a reluctant acceptor of the counsel’s position.”

“I can say as somebody who has worked with Greg throughout the campaign … and then as White House counsel, the president sees Greg as a friend and a trusted adviser,” Mr. Gibbs said.

He credited Mr. Craig with setting up the process that will end in the closure of the Guantanamo Bay and confirmed he played a key role in selecting and shepherding Sonia Sotomayor to her seat on the Supreme Court.

Mr. Craig also oversaw the president’s revamping of U.S. policy on terrorism interrogations and detentions, including a ban on torture, and was at the center of administration moves to release many documents relating to the treatment of terror suspects under the Bush administration — and to oppose the release of photos of abuse of detainees overseas by U.S. personnel. The decisions earned Mr. Obama considerable criticism.

Mr. Craig’s planned resignation became public as Mr. Obama landed in Tokyo for a week-long tour of east Asia.

Mr. Craig is the highest-ranking departure so far in Mr. Obama’s 10-month presidency.

He is perhaps best known for his work in a previous White House, as former President Bill Clinton’s chief defender during his 1998 Senate impeachment trial. He later became one of the earliest Clinton allies to join Mr. Obama’s presidential campaign, during the Democratic primaries against Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Mr. Craig has taken the blame for the White House’s failure to predict and effectively manage the political dimension of closing Guantanamo, especially the extremely charged question of where to move the detainees now held in the Cuba-based prison.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers balked at the idea of transferring detainees into U.S. prisons. And under Republican pressure, Congress has banned the release of detainees into the U.S.

However, Democrats have turned back Republican efforts to bar transfer of Guantanamo detainees into the country to face trial.

The process of persuading other nations to take some Guantanamo detainees also has been painstakingly slow. The Obama administration also was taken aback at the amount of work required to put together formerly nonexistent evidence and intelligence files on each Guantanamo detainee.

As a result, the administration admitted some time ago that it will most likely not meet Obama’s January deadline for closing the prison.

In recent weeks, the prison-closing process has begun to pick up steam.

The Justice Department is expected to announce Friday morning that self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind — Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — and four other Guantanamo Bay detainees will be sent to New York to face trial in a civilian federal court, and five other suspects will be sent to military commissions.

Last month, Mr. Obama signed a defense policy bill that brought back but revamped Bush-era military trials for terror suspects. The revised military commissions give new legal rights to accused terrorists.

Associated Press contributed to this article.

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