Original Guantánamo Commander Says Prison "Should Never Have Been Opened"

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Dec. 12 2013 3:06 PM

"A Prison That Should Never Have Been Opened"

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A soldier walks through an abandoned camp at the US Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on August 8, 2013

Photo by Chantal Valery/AFP/Getty Images

The first commander of the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay now believes that the military prison "should never have been opened" in the first place and needs to be shuttered as soon as possible. Here's retired Maj. Gen. Michael Lehnert making his case in an op-ed in today's Detroit Free Press:

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

Even in the earliest days of Guantánamo, 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.
In retrospect, the entire detention and interrogation strategy was wrong. We squandered the goodwill of the world after we were attacked by our actions in Guantánamo, both in terms of detention and torture. Our decision to keep Guantánamo open has helped our enemies because it validates every negative perception of the United States.
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Lehnert, who was tasked with establishing the facility more than a decade ago, has previously expressed his dismay with how prisoners have been treated at the military-run prison in the years since he left, saying in 2009 that "I think we lost the moral high ground."

Today's op-ed comes as lawmakers work on a defense authorization bill that could give President Obama increased flexibility to transfer some terrorism suspects currently being held at Guantánamo to other countries, including Yemen. The legislation would keep the ban on bringing the prisoners to U.S. soil in place, but it's nonetheless being billed as major step toward Obama meeting his yet-unfulfilled 2008 campaign promise to shutter the facility.

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