Thirteen years ago, the United States started taking detainees who were captured in the global “war on terrorism” to its detention facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Nine months after the first detainees arrived at Guantánamo, the Department of Defense created the Joint Task Force Guantánamo (JTF-GTMO). Its stated mission is to maintain safe, humane, legal and transparent detention operations.
In the intervening years, detainees and human rights watchdog groups have filed hundreds of complaints and allegations of mistreatment and abuse against JTF-GTMO. Since its inception, 11 commanders have led JTF-GTMO. They are responsible for creating, approving and ensuring the enforcement of all operational procedures for the guard force and for the proper care and well-being of the detainees.
Not a single one of the those commanders had any experience or training in detention operations before arriving at Guantánamo.
All four branches of the U.S. military have military police and special police commands maintained by an abundance of qualified officers with extensive training and experience in detention operations. Yet the Department of Defense has repeatedly chosen commanders with no experience at all. Why?
The answer may lie in the lessons the Department of Defense learned in early 2002.
Nine months before the creation of JTF-GTMO, detainees were arriving at Guantánamo by the hundreds. At that time, there were two separate commands at the facility overseeing detention operations. Brig. Gen. Rick Baccus led the task force responsible for the care and well-being of the detainees, and Major Gen. Michael Dunleavey commanded the task force responsible for interrogations and gathering intelligence.
Almost immediately the two generals collided on the issue of how the detainees should be treated. Baccus was an experienced military police commander who believed in firm yet humane tactics. While he expected the detainees to obey his guard forces, he also wanted to ensure that the detainees were allowed certain religious freedoms. He wanted them to be fed according to their religious diets, to give them each a Quran and to allow them to pray at the proper times of day. He also wanted the detainees to know their rights as enemy combatants. Dunleavey disagreed and complained up the chain of command that Baccus was too soft on the detainees and his procedures were interfering with interrogations.
In October 2002, just seven months after Baccus took command of JTF-160, he was relieved of his duties.
It appears Dunleavey knew that in order for the government’s harsh new interrogation methods to be effective, another well-trained military officer schooled in proper detention operations could not be put in charge at Guantánamo. Almost immediately after Baccus was relieved of his duties, the two commands were dissolved, and JTF-GTMO was created in their place. Its first commander was Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, a career artillery officer with no experience in detention operations. Since then, career military pilots and electrical engineers have taken command of the most controversial detention facility on the planet but no one with experience running a detention facility.
From November 2002 until now, countless U.S. intelligence agencies have sent interrogators to Guantánamo. Those interrogators often send requests to the JTF-GTMO commander on how they would like the detainee they plan to interrogate to be treated, what camp he should be housed in and how the guard force should handle him. Those requests are all adjudicated by a commander with absolutely no experience or training in detention operations. The results, narrated in lawsuits, human rights documents, memoirs and Senate reports, speak for themselves.
As long as the United States keeps putting commanders with no training or experience in detention operations in charge of JTF-GTMO, we can be sure the complaints about detainee abuse will continue.
Below, present and past commanders of the U.S. prison at Guantánamo. None of them had any experience in detention operations before taking command of JTF-GTMO.
Adm. Kyle Cozad, JTF-GTMO commander July 2014 to present. A career Navy pilot.
Adm. Richard Butler, JTF-GTMO commander July 2013 to July 2014. A career Navy pilot.
Adm. John W. Smith, JTF-GTMO commander July 2012 to July 2013. A career Navy pilot.
Adm. David B. Woods, JTF-GTMO commander August 2011 to July 2012. A career Navy pilot.
Adm. Jeffrey Harbeson, JTF-GTMO commander June 2011 to August 2011. A career surface warfare officer (ship officer).
Adm. Thomas H. Copeman, JTF-GTMO commander June 2009 to June 2010. A career electrical engineer.
Adm. David M. Thomas Jr., JTF-GTMO commander May 2008 to June 2009. A career surface warfare officer.
Adm. Mark H. Buzby, JTF-GTMO commander April 2007 to January 2008. A career surface warfare officer.
Adm. Harry Harris, JTF-GTMO commander April 2006 to April 2007. A career Navy pilot.
Gen. Jay Hood, JTF-GTMO commander November 2004 to April 2006. A career field artillery officer.
Gen. Geoffrey Miller, JTF-GTMO commander November 2002 to November 2004.