USMC General Michael Lehnert, First GITMO Commander, Calls for Guantánamo Closure
The Marine Corps general who opened the infamous US military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba has written an op-ed piece calling for its closure.
In a stunning about-face, Gen. Michael Lehnert, now retired, wrote in the Detroit Free Press that keeping GITMO open helps America’s enemies and “validates every negative perception of the United States.”
“In retrospect, the entire detention and interrogation strategy was wrong,” wrote Lehnert. “We squandered the goodwill of the world after we were attacked by our actions in Guantánamo, both in terms of detention and torture.”
“I believe it is time to close Guantánamo,” the former Joint Task Force commander wrote, adding that the prison “should never have been opened.”
Lehnert wrote that GITMO was opened “because we were legitimately angry and frightened” by the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and “we thought that the detainees would provide a treasure trove of information and intelligence.”
“We were told that the prisoners were the ‘worst of the worst,'” Lehnert continues, but “even in the earliest days… I became more and more convinced that many of the detainees should never have been sent in the first place. They had little intelligence value, and there was insufficient evidence linking them to war crimes.”
“That remains the case today for many, if not most, of the detainees.”
Indeed, more than half of the 162 men currently imprisoned at Guantánamo have been cleared for release, some of them since as far back as 2004. These unjustly imprisoned men are “stuck by politics,” writes Lehnert.
Lehnert argues that “our Constitution and the rule of law” should be applied to GITMO detainees who are being held without charge. Those detainees should be transferred to the United States, the general says, for the sake of defending “constitutional values.”
“If we make a mockery of our values, it calls [into] question what we are really fighting for.”
President Obama issued an executive order to shut down the prison on his first full day in office in January 2009. That never happened, and last year the Supreme Court, which had earlier granted Guantánamo detainees habeas corpus rights, refused to hear any additional appeals from them.
Earlier this year, many GITMO detainees launched a hunger strike to protest their continued detention. By late April, more than half of the remaining prisoners had joined the strike, prompting US officials to order force-feeding of detainees, which critics called yet another form of torture.
The prospects for GITMO’s closure are brighter than at any time since President Obama issued his ill-fated executive order to shutter the prison. Last month, the Senate defeated a Republican-led effort to amend the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would have prohibited the transfer of Guantánamo detainees to the United States. Earlier this week, the House and Senate Armed Services committees reached a compromise that would allow the president to transfer detainees from the prison to third countries for release or imprisonment.
“It’s a very good development that the Defense Department can step up its efforts to resettle and repatriate the vast majority of detainees who have never been charged with a crime,” Chris Anders, senior legislative counsel at the rights group American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), told the Huffington Post. “It’s certainly a big step in the right direction, but certainly more needs to be done.”
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