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Intro: "Ten years ago, Army Colonel Terry Carrico watched a C-141 land at Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in Cuba. He had planned for the moment carefully, and he knew very well what the cargo was: 20 detainees sent from Afghanistan. Carrico was the first camp commander of what would become the world's most famous terrorism prison, and this was its opening day."

Ten years of indefinite detention at Guantanamo Bay could go on indefinitely. (photo: John Moore/Getty Images)
Ten years of indefinite detention at Guantanamo Bay could go on indefinitely. (photo: John Moore/Getty Images)



Gitmo Commander: Close It Down

By Aram Roston, The Daily Beast

07 January 12

 

A decade after the prison camp opened, its first warden speaks out against U.S. detention policies in the war on terror and tells Aram Roston the facility should be closed.

en years ago, Army Colonel Terry Carrico watched a C-141 land at Guantánamo Bay Naval Station in Cuba. He had planned for the moment carefully, and he knew very well what the cargo was: 20 detainees sent from Afghanistan. Carrico was the first camp commander of what would become the world's most famous terrorism prison, and this was its opening day.

He had choreographed, with machinelike precision, how his soldiers would take custody of the shackled, blindfolded detainees as they were led onto the tarmac from the cavernous plane. With 23 years of service as a military police officer, he didn't let any emotion register in his face that day as he watched, but he was surprised at the appearance of the prisoners.

They were scrawny and malnourished to an alarming degree, hardly appearing like the crazed fanatics that Gen. Richard Myers, then the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, described that day back at a Pentagon press conference. "These are people," the general said, invoking an alarming image, "that would gnaw through hydraulic lines in the back of a C-17 to bring it down, I mean."

Carrico recalls that the detainees were actually compliant and docile that first day.

Now a corporate executive in Georgia, he considers the debate that is still raging over U.S. detention policy from a unique perspective, and he has reached conclusions that run counter to the prevailing political trends in Washington. The retired colonel says Guantánamo "should be closed," though he believes it never will be. He says "very few" of the men held there had valuable intelligence, at least while he ran the camp.

Carrico also says plainly that he believes it is wrong to keep people indefinitely without trial based on secret evidence. He argues that people captured in the war on terror should be arrested and tried in courts of law, not locked up at places like Guantánamo. "It goes against the way I was trained and what I believe," he tells The Daily Beast, "to hold someone indefinitely with lack of evidence or proof."

"Due process of law, all the things that we stand for as a country, and being a country of laws, it doesn't sit well with me that we are going to continue to keep people in Guantánamo," he said.

Carrico has the unusual credentials for someone making these points, for he was essentially the facility's first warden.

It was in the final days of December 2001 that then defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld publicly announced that the U.S. military enclave in Cuba was the "least worst place" for a detention facility. The war in Afghanistan was underway, Kabul had fallen to U.S.-led forces, and captured prisoners were beginning to fill a makeshift site in Kandahar in the cold winter.

Carrico got his assignment late in December and landed at Guantánamo 72 hours later. He was shown some outdoor chain-link pens, overgrown by tropical weeds. "They were basically outdoor cages," Carrico said, "It's what you would normally find in a veterinarian's facilities to hold animals."

He took charge of the effort and worked fast: they were told to expect as many as 300 prisoners.

It was Jan. 11, 2002, less than two weeks after he got to Guantánamo that the first shipment arrived. Remember, this was before the Bush administration had announced that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to these detainees.

It was a different time: The U.S. had not yet adopted controversial secret interrogation rules, or techniques like waterboarding, sleep deprivation, stress positions to induce pain, forced nakedness, and other practices that created discomfort.

Still, Guantánamo was a harsh place even in those early days. Within weeks, as more and more detainees arrived on the flights from Afghanistan, Carrico wondered whether they were really capturing the worst of the worst. The detainees included an obviously mentally disturbed prisoner who was quickly dubbed "Crazy Bob."

The heads and faces of the detainees, even the elderly ones, had been shaved in Afghanistan before their flight - a final insult to all of them on their departure. The guards back in Kandahar had done it.

Carrico said few seemed like they had valuable intelligence about terrorism. He said in the first few weeks, Rumsfeld arrived, and Carrico walked with him through the chain-link fences, passing the prisoners in orange.

"'I toured Camp X-ray with him and he said, 'Colonel, what do you think we have here?' and I said, 'I think we have a bunch of soldiers there that were being paid.' And I questioned their intelligence value."

Rumsfeld's response, Carrico said, was, " 'You know, Colonel, I think you are right.' "

Carrico was convinced that Rumsfeld agreed with him. "His impression was that they were not of any great intelligence value," Carrico told The Daily Beast.

Earlier this year, researchers from the Seton Hall Law School Center for Policy and Research uncovered a 2003 memo from Rumsfeld, which indicated he knew that detainees at Guantánamo had little valuable information. "We need to stop populating Guantánamo Bay (GTMO) with low-level enemy combatants," Rumsfeld wrote back then.

"Due process of law, all the things that we stand for as a country ... It doesn't sit well with me that we are going to continue to keep people in Guantánamo."

Rumsfeld's office said he could not be reached for comment on this story.

Back in 2002, even Carrico himself insisted to reporters that the detainees were a deadly threat. "They are dangerous people," he said in one interview back then. "Some of these people are directly related or responsible for 9/11."

Now he explains, "at the time, we didn't really know who we were receiving in detail." He said he assumed everyone who was sent there must have been linked to the war on terrorism. "I made the statement," he acknowledges. "I guess at the time I didn't give it a second thought that they were not tied to 9/11 directly."

The alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attacks, like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, weren't transferred to Guantánamo until 2006, five years after the prison opened. They were sent from CIA custody, and they are still housed separately from the other detainees.

Carrico's job wasn't to interrogate, it was solely to make sure the detainees were housed, fed, and secured properly. When it came to interrogations, he says, the general who ran the intelligence operations tried to ban military police officers from the rooms.

Carrico says he wouldn't let that happen, insisting that his MPs always accompany the detainees when they were interrogated. "My MPs were going to ensure that detainees were not assaulted or mistreated in interrogation," he says.

In February 2002, President Bush famously issued an order announcing that prisoners were not entitled to protections under the Geneva Conventions, although he said they would be treated in a matter "consistent" with the conventions.

Carrico, who had been trained to run prisoner-of-war camps, says the president's declaration didn't affect him. "My training was founded in the Geneva Conventions and fair and humane treatment."

But Carrico left Guantánamo in May 2002, and later that year the facility launched new procedures, where interrogation tactics and inmate treatment became increasingly coercive and unpredictable. By October 2002, Rumsfeld had signed a document authorizing aggressive interrogation techniques that included sleep deprivation, forced standing, the use of hot or cold temperatures, and other approaches. Guantánamo's practices were later copied in Iraq and Afghanistan, investigations have found.

"If we did treatment that was in violation of the Geneva Convention," Carrico says, "then I disagree with it."

Since 2002, of course, the facility has undergone various phases and transformations. President Obama came to office vowing to close it down, and though that is still his administration's policy, not a single detainee has been transferred out of Guantánamo since January 2011.

Some 171 men are still being held. Defense lawyers and former detainees say conditions have improved dramatically, but the legal status of the inmates is just as murky as ever. Dozens have been approved for release off the island but are still held there. Still others, the Obama administration says, will be tried by military commissions.

And 48 are in yet another category: they have been ruled to be too dangerous to release and yet impossible to ever prosecute in either military or civilian courts, according to a government task force.

Carrico says he thinks Guantánamo should be shut down. "I think it should be closed because it served its purpose," he argues. Those captured in the future should be tried in court, he argues. Still, he doubts the facility will ever close, given the political realities. Indeed, Congress just passed a defense authorization act, which President Obama signed, requiring military custody for terrorism suspects.

 

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+29 # Willman 2012-01-07 21:57
Another Bush (failed)legacy.
 
 
+42 # medusa 2012-01-07 23:22
Violations of the Geneva Conventions are a standing shame.
Obama taught constitutional law: why in heaven's name won't he (1) close Guantanamo, and (2) restore habeas corpus to every place where our flag is raised, including foreign soil?
 
 
+28 # giraffee2012 2012-01-08 00:15
I wish somebody would put Carl Rove in Gitmo along with all the other masterminds of Republican party.
 
 
+6 # jwb110 2012-01-08 12:49
Quoting giraffee2012:
I wish somebody would put Carl Rove in Gitmo along with all the other masterminds of Republican party.

Given the recent Defense BIll that wish can be a real possibility. Imagine the info one could glean from Rove by water boarding him?
 
 
-3 # pro 2012-01-08 03:40
Garrico was just following orders?

And he's rewarded in this column as a decent being for telling
part of the truth, doing nothing as a civilian to stop the abuse of
the people under his former command and taking an executives job?

Explain this as ethical behavior. He's one damaged, disgusting
shepherd. Sub- human to take part, sub-human not to take a
stand for oppression that might cost him something he values
in his personal life to attone. What does he use to sleep or is he
a simple minded sociopath?



Is this the new morality.
 
 
+14 # Merschrod 2012-01-08 09:15
Read the chronology carefully, the Col. ran Guantanamo as a prisoner of war camp as per the Geneva Convention. He guarded his prisoners, and the torture and atrocities did not begin until after he left the assignment.
 
 
+23 # Obwon 2012-01-08 06:39
This idea of a criminal to dangerous to have the rights, granted by law, is anathema to our U.S. Constitution. In doing this we are saying that our own Constitution is wrong about giving rights to the accused. It says we are wrong, in fact, to give citizen any rights, since any citizen could be too dangerous to have them.

We have gone back to the "presumption of guilt" of any person accused, and therefore the suspicion that anyone who challenges authority, is a danger to society. Today in New York City, you can be put in jail for putting your feet on a subway seat! Worse yet, we have citizens agreeing with this policy, because they want a seat on the subway!
This, regardless of how we're redefining what jails are meant to be used for. What next? People who jay walk? Litter? Wear loud colors or say objectionable things?

King George and Nikita Khrushchev would be pleased! We've crushed ourselves!
 
 
+10 # RMDC 2012-01-08 08:58
Right on, Obwon. What the hell is "a criminal to dangerous." There's no definition of this. And who makes the decision? None of the people at Guantanamo are dangerous. THis is what Carrico said,

"They were scrawny and malnourished to an alarming degree, hardly appearing like the crazed fanatics that Gen. Richard Myers, then the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, described that day back at a Pentagon press conference. "These are people," the general said, invoking an alarming image, "that would gnaw through hydraulic lines in the back of a C-17 to bring it down, I mean.""

Richard Myers is, however, quite dangerous. He should be prosecuted but should have all the legal rights due him.
 
 
+16 # mwd870 2012-01-08 06:40
It's significant every time someone who has or had authority speaks out with his conscience. It gives a little more strength to the truth, on the record.

The atrocities of Gitmo are a legacy of Bush, Rumsfeld, and Cheney. They are the ones who should be in Guantanamo now. Yet the policies of this administration and Congress are no better.

"Still, [Carrico] doubts the facility will ever close, given the political realities. Indeed, Congress just passed a defense authorization act, which President Obama signed, requiring military custody for terrorism suspects."
 
 
+17 # DemocracyNeedsDefenders 2012-01-08 07:29
Violations of the Geneva Convention are more than a shame. They are unconstitutiona l and un-American by definition.
It is simply imperial hubris. We do this because we can and there is no-one big enough to make us do otherwise at the moment. But this moment will be short-lived. Simple demographics say that in 50 years, China and India will also be strong enough to give the finger to the World community. And we will be sobbing for the international institutions that we ourselves have destroyed.
 
 
+2 # Rixar13 2012-01-08 07:53
Carrico says he thinks Guantánamo should be shut down. "I think it should be closed because it served its purpose," he argues.

Replace with Chicken Hawk, Chicken $hits... smile :-)
 
 
+6 # RMDC 2012-01-08 08:10
I've always wondered why Guantanamo has not been closed. It is terrible PR for the military and CIA. And they have secret prison-torture camps all over the world anyway. They don't need Guantanamo. Here's are some possible reasons why it remains.

1. Guantanamo is the main transshipment point for Afghan heroin going into the US. There are lots of unmarked, unregistered CIA planes going in and out of there. We do know one heroin loaded plane on its way from Afghanistan to Guantanamo crashed in Mexico a few years ago.

2. The oil in Cuban and Haitian territorial waters is right off Guantanamo. As long as the US has a huge military presence there, oil drilling cannot take place, thus depriving Cuba and Haiti of income. The US may also be doing oil exploration itself.

3. Guantanamo contains advanced and sophisticated laboratories for human behavior modification research that cannot easily be duplicated anywhere else. The CIA has been involved in experimentation on human beings since the 50s. Remember operation MK-ULTRA, this is how we got LSD. But there were many other drugs tested and surgical operations/modi fications as well. It is hard to find test subjects for this sort of research but Guantanamo is perfect. No one really knows who is there, who is coming in and out. The CIA has been following up on human experimentation begun by the Germans and Japanese in WW II POW camps. It has all of their records.
 
 
+2 # Billy Bob 2012-01-08 14:41
I always thought I was paying attention. Apparently not.

When did ABU GRAIB close down? Remember ABU GRAIB? What about all of those secret torture camps worldwide ("black sites")?

Why do we always here debate about closing down Guantanamo? I just don't get it. Either we continue torturing people or we stop. What difference does it make where the actual torture takes place?

Is it just me, or does this have the markings of a red herring?

Are we discussing closing Guantanamo so people will assume we've stopped torturing people in the 100 other places we currently do it?

What am I missing?
 
 
-1 # jmcauliff 2012-01-09 17:27
The US has no legal right to be in Guantanamo. The original agreement was only for use as a "coaling" i.e. refueling station and even that was coerced, a classic unequal treaty.

Agreeing to Guantanamo was the only way Cuba could free itself from US occupation. When Roosevelt revoked most of the Platt Amendment, he left in place Guantanamo.

Whatever security logic applied at that time is long past out of date.

The story should have included the total number of suicides and how many prisoners are force fed to avoid additional deaths.

Guantanamo is a double shame on our country, that we are still there and what we are using it for.

John McAuliff
Fund for Reconciliation and Development
 

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