Ahead of Hearing, First Commanding Officer of Guantanamo Urges Congress to Close Detention Facility
Washington, D.C.—Major General Michael R. Lehnert, USMC (Ret.), today urged members of Congress to renew their efforts to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The call came in a statement for the record submitted to the House Foreign Affairs Committee ahead of a hearing examining issues related to the Guantanamo detention facilities.
“Guantanamo’s continued existence hurts us in our prosecution of the fight against terrorists. It feeds into the narrative that the United States is not a nation of laws nor one that respects human rights. Military commissions create a façade of justice,” wrote Gen. Lehnert, the first commanding officer at Guantanamo Bay.
Today’s hearing comes just weeks after the Pentagon released a plan to Congress detailing how the administration intends to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.
The administration’s plan includes the accelerated transfer of detainees at Guantanamo who have been cleared for transfer by defense, intelligence, and law enforcement agencies. It also mandates expedited review, pursuant to administrative Period Review Board (PRB) hearings, of those remaining detainees who are not facing trial to determine if they can be cleared for transfer. The remaining detainees who will not be transferred in the near term—a number not to exceed 60, according to the plan—will be relocated to one of thirteen stateside detention facilities, pending Congressional approval. This will result in annual operating savings of up to $85 million compared to the cost of detention operations at Guantanamo. There are currently 91 detainees held at Guantanamo, which costs approximately $445 million per year to operate, about $4.8 million per detainee. The administration’s plan is in line with recommendations made in Human Rights First’s blueprint, “How to Close Guantanamo.”
Earlier this month, 36 retired generals and admirals of the U.S. Armed Forces sent a letter to the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, urging them to carefully consider the Obama Administration’s plan to close Guantanamo, and to work with the president to shutter the detention facility. “Closing Guantanamo will not be easy, but it is the right thing to do, and we call on you to work together to accomplish it. We take heart that our nation has elected people who will exercise their conscientious judgment, but who will not allow politics to obscure courage,” wrote the generals and admirals.
“Guantanamo was a mistake. History will reflect that. It was created in the early days as a consequence of fear, anger, and political expediency,” wrote Gen. Lehnert. “Terrorists want to make us live in fear. They want to change who we are as a people. By both standards as long as Guantanamo continues, they are winning, and we are playing into their hands.”