Fordham Law

General who opened Guantanamo calls for it to be shut down

Karen Greenberg in The Hill, December 12, 2013

Media Source

Retired Maj. Gen. Michael Lehnert, who commanded the joint task force that established the prison at Guantánamo Bay in 2002, called Thursday for it to be closed.

In an op-ed for the Detroit Free Press, Lehnert said keeping Guantánamo open "has helped our enemies because it validates every negative perception of the United States."

A deal reached on the Defense authorization bill between the two Armed Services committees this week would give the Obama administration more flexibility to transfer detainees to Yemen.

Lehnert praised this provision but criticized the bill's continued ban on transferring detainees to the U.S. as "unwise and unnecessary."

He writes that a handful of the 162 remaining prisoners should be transferred to the U.S. for prosecution, but most should be released.

"In determining whether we should release detainees who have no charges brought against them, I would argue that our Constitution and the rule of law conclusively trump any additional risk that selective release of detainees may entail," Lehnert writes. "It is time that the American people and our politicians accepted a level of risk in the defense of our constitutional values, just as our service men and women have gone into harm’s way time after time to defend our constitution."

Karen Greenberg, Director of the Center on National Security at Fordham University, wrote in her 2009 book on Guantánamo that had Lehnert's emphasis on humane treatment of detainees continued after his 90-day command, the legacy of the base could be different.

"Certainly the reputation of the United States would not have been damaged as it has been by the unabashed pushing aside of law," she wrote.

Lehnert recalls that during his command, some Marines pushed back against his rules. “My answer to each of these young service members was always the same,” Lehnert writes. “If we treat them as they would treat us, we become them.”