Terry Carrico, Ex-Guantanamo Prison Commander, Says Facility Should Close
Jan 6, 2012 4:45 AM EST
A decade after the prison camp opened, its first
warden speaks out against
in the war on terror and tells
facility should be closed.
Ten years ago, Army Colonel Terry Carrico watched a
C-141 land at
had planned for the moment carefully, and he knew very
well what the cargo was: 20 detainees sent from
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,
Carrico recalls that the detainees were actually
compliant and docile that first day.
Now a corporate executive in
debate that is still raging over
from a unique perspective, and he has reached
conclusions that run counter to the prevailing political
namo "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
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
Carrico has the unusual credentials for someone making
these points, for he was essentially the facility's
It was in the final days of December 2001 that then
defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld publicly announced
worst place" for a detention facility. The war in
forces, and captured prisoners were beginning to fill a
makeshift site in
Carrico got his assignment late in December and landed
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
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
this was before the Bush administration had announced
It was a different time: The
controversial secret interrogation rules, or techniques
like waterboarding, sleep deprivation, stress positions
to induce pain, forced nakedness, and other practices
that created discomfort.
days. Within weeks, as more and more detainees arrived
on the flights from
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
flight-a final insult to all of them on their departure.
The guards back in
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
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
memo from Rumsfeld, which indicated he knew that
"We need to stop populating
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
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
The alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attacks, like Khalid
Sheikh Mohammed, weren't transferred to
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
said they would be treated in a matter "consistent" with
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
and fair and humane treatment."
But Carrico left
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.
practices were later copied in
investigations have found.
"If we did treatment that was in violation of the
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
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
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
"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.