Maj. Gen. Lehnert Speaks Out about Guantanamo
By Jess Ballance
“The United States should stand for something; stand for the rule of law, stand for the appreciation and respect for human rights. As long as we have Guantanamo, it’s very difficult to say that we stand for those things.”
-Major General Michael Lehnert (ret.)
General Lehnert, the commanding officer who opened Guantanamo Bay, recently appeared on the Australian news program, Foreign Correspondent, where he argued the prison must be closed. Gen. Lehnert provides a unique perspective to the debate around Guantanamo, and in recent months it has become more apparent that the prison and military commissions system are dysfunctional and unable to properly deliver justice.
The military trials have proceeded agonizingly slowly, and in the past month even more setbacks have plagued the already delayed trials. Recently, it has been revealed that the FBI has been in contact with some of the defense attorneys in the case of the 9/11 conspirators, and last week, Judge Colonel James Pohl had granted a motion to order the CIA to provide a timeline of alleged USS Cole bombing mastermind Abd al Rahim al Nashiri’s detention in co-called “black sites” after his arrest in Dubai in 2002. It is unclear whether they will comply.
As the first commanding officer at Guantanamo Bay who set up the first camps at the offshore prison, General Michael Lehnert knows firsthand that though the decision to open Guantanamo may have been understandable at the time, he points out that it was, in fact, a tragic mistake. The program aired days after Mark Martins, a brigadier general and the chief prosecutor of Military Commission, publicly blamed military commissions observers for characterizing the system as illegitimate and dysfunctional.
Human Rights First has urged the U.S. government to move swiftly toward ending military prosecutions for terror suspects in favor of the federal court system, as outlined in Guantanamo: A Comprehensive Exit Strategy.