A top military commander who established the Guantánamo Bay prison is now asking lawmakers to close the now notorious facility once and for all. In an editorial in the Detroit Free Press Thursday, Major General Michael Lehnert bluntly called Guantánamo “a prison that should never have been opened.”
The general recounted how he and his task force were told shortly after the September 11 attacks that the prisoners at Guantánamo were “the worst of the worst.” However, he quickly realized that this was not the case.
“Even in the earliest days of Guantánamo, I became more and more convinced that many of the detainees should never have been sent in the first place,” Lehnert wrote. “They had little intelligence value, and there was insufficient evidence linking them to war crimes.”
Lehnert argued that the atrocities committed at Guantánamo harmed U.S. security interests. “In retrospect, the entire detention and interrogation strategy was wrong,” he said. “We squandered the goodwill of the world after we were attacked by our actions in Guantánamo, both in terms of detention and torture. Our decision to keep Guantánamo open has helped our enemies because it validates every negative perception of the United States.”
The prison’s remaining 162 occupants engage in periodic hunger strikes to protest their treatment. More than a hundred detainees participated mass hunger strike over the summer. Rather than address their complaints, the military force-fed strikers through a tube, an experience many described as extremely painful. Congress recently agreed to allow the transfer of half of the prisoners to third countries, but is still blocking bringing detainees to the mainland to face civilian trials.
Closing Guantánamo would also save billions of taxpayer dollars over the years, as each prisoner costs $2.7 million to hold on the island per year. Thus far, the U.S. has spent nearly $5 billion on maintaining the facility.