Original Guantanamo Commander Wants Prison Closed

The original commander at Guantanamo says the site should be closed in 2014. In a recent op-ed for the Detroit Free Press, Marine Major General Michael Lehnert, who over saw Guantanamo’s construction, goes on to say the controversial prison “should never have been opened.”

Lehnert says that he began to have reservations about Guantanamo shortly after its opening. He says that as time went on, he became “convinced” many of the prisoners should have never been there at all. Lehnert argues that the detainees had “little intelligence value.” He says they also lacked strong evidence that connected prisoners to terrorist activity. This is the case for many people still held at the military prison, the original Guantanamo commander explains.

Since retiring from the military, Lehnert has been openly critical of the decision to leave Guantanamo open. In 2009, the general said that the US had “lost the moral high ground.” In his recent editorial, the former Guantanamo commander says that he feels the military’s tactics were “wrong,” referring to extraordinary rendition and black site prisons. Doing so was an act of the US having “squandered the goodwill of the world,” especially after refusing to shutter Guantanamo in the wake of international controversy.

Keeping Guantanamo open “has helped our enemies” by confirming the negative messages spread by militant, anti-American groups and hardliners. Many of the 162 men imprisoned in Cuba, says Lehnert, are actually cleared for transfer or release. However, politics and legal hurdles keep them locked up unnecessarily. He says that releasing prisoners is “about risk management,” but wonders if continuing to violate their rights is just fueling anti-American sentiment.

Since the opening of Guantanamo in Cuba, 779 suspects have been imprisoned there. The 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, now up for debate in Congress, would allow 80 of the remaining 162 men to be transferred. The NDAA has passed the House and now heads to the Senate for a vote.

Michael Lehnert, Guantanamo’s original commander, says that shutting the prison down completely in 2014 should coincide with US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

[Image via Wikimedia Commons / US Army]