Monday, January 9, 2012

Ex-Guantanamo Prison Commander Says, 'Close It'

Terry Carrico, Ex-Guantanamo Prison Commander, Says Facility Should Close


by Aram Roston

Jan 6, 2012 4:45 AM EST


     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.


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.



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 Guanta

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 Guantanamo. "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 Guantanamo," 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 Guantanamo 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 Guantanamo that the first shipment arrived. Remember,

this was before the Bush administration had announced

that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to these



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, Guantanamo 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



"'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 Guantanamo had little valuable information.

"We need to stop populating Guantanamo 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 Guantanamo."

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 Guantanamo 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 Guantanamo 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. Guantanamo'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 Guantanamo since January



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 Guantanamo 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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