President Obama’s nominee to be the nation’s counterterrorism chief defended himself Tuesday against allegations that he had misled a congressman about plans to resettle Guantanamo Bay detainees in Northern Virginia.
Matthew Olsen, picked to be the head of the National Counterterrorism Center, told a Senate panel that Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) may have been suffering from a “misrecollection” about their conversations more than two years ago. Wolf said earlier this month that Olsen had told him in the spring of 2009 that no decision had been made about the transfer of Uighurs to his district, when in fact Olsen was aware of the plans.
The administration later canceled its plans to transfer the Uighurs to Virginia.
“At no time did I say there was no decision,” Olsen told Senate Select Committee on Intelligence during a confirmation hearing, adding that he had only been authorized to discuss the process of how the cases of detainees were being assessed, not where individual detainees might be transferred or whether they might be prosecuted.
While the dispute relates to an incident more than two years ago, it has resurfaced Olsen’s actions during what was perhaps the most controversial aspect of his long career at the Justice Department.
Olsen directed the interagency Guantanamo Review Task Force, overseeing the administration’s assessment of every detainee at the facility in Cuba. The review process, a critical prelude to what was to have been the closure of Guantanamo, has been criticized by some lawmakers.
Administration officials have said the review process involved surprisingly little rancor, and that Olsen was not solely in charge of making decisions. Still, his role with Guantanamo is coming under scrutiny following Obama’s decision to nominate him to the NCTC.
The exchange between him and Wolf two years ago was almost immediately raised at the hearing on Tuesday by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.).
Despite the questioning, none of the committee’s members indicated that they would vote against Olsen’s nomination.