On 12th Anniversary, Guantanamo’s First Commanding General Says It Must Close

Washington, D.C. – Twelve years ago today, Guantanamo received its first twenty prisoners in the aftermath of the attacks on 9/11. Major General Michael Lehnert was the first commanding general of Guantanamo who stood up the prison and received its first detainees. To mark today’s anniversary, Major General Lehnert offered the following reflections:

“While there were compelling operational reasons to stand up Guantanamo prison early in the war, we squandered international goodwill and lost opportunities by failing to adhere to the Geneva Conventions and to our own rule of law. Those decisions turned Guantanamo into a liability. The objective of terrorists is to change our behavior and make us live in fear.  By those standards our adversaries have been successful. We must reclaim our moral position.  The Constitution does not stop at the waters’ edge. We can defeat terrorism only if we do so in a manner that is consistent with American values. Guantanamo does not serve America’s interests. As long as it remains open, it will undermine America’s security and status as a land where human rights and the rule of law matter.”

Major General Lehnert’s observations come as Congress and the Obama Administration have taken a series of steps to put the prison on the path to closure in the past month. In December, Congress passed its annual defense bill that replaced confusing and cumbersome foreign transfer restrictions that the Obama Administration had said complicated the transfers of detainees to their home or third countries. Last month, just days after President Obama signed that bill into law, the administration transferred three Uighur detainees to Slovakia, ending the nightmare detention of men whom the administration says never posed a threat to the United States, but could not be repatriated to China where they faced certain persecution as a Muslim minority in that nation.

This week, progress toward closing Guantanamo continued as the Periodic Review Board, established by executive order in March 2011, concluded its first case. It ruled that Mahmoud Abdulaziz Al-Mujahid, a Yemeni citizen, no longer poses a significant threat to U.S. national security and is now cleared for transfer.

Human Rights First’s Dixon Osburn said, “The United States has a legal obligation to find lawful dispositions for all law of war detainees when the war in Afghanistan ends this year. The administration must vastly accelerate the administrative review boards and obtain appropriate security assurances from host nations so that those detainees cleared for release can be sent home or resettled. The clock is ticking.”

Of the 779 detainees ultimately detained at the prison, there are currently 155 who remain, and of those 76 are cleared for release today. Another 70 will face a new administrative review to determine if they too can be cleared for transfer.


Published on January 11, 2014


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