News Release

First Commander: Guantánamo Should Never Have Opened


Maj. Gen. Michael Lehnert, USMC (Ret.), was the first commander of the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. On Thursday, the Detroit News published a piece by him titled: “Here’s Why It’s Long Past Time that we Close Guantánamo.”

MICHAEL RATNER, mratner at, @justleft
Available for a limited number of interviews, Ratner is president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which led the first legal challenge to the U.S. government detaining people at Guantánamo.

He said today: “There is much that is remarkable in the recent op-ed by Guantánamo’s first commander, Michael Lehnert. It is not just a piece arguing we should close it already, but that it should never have been opened. Two passages are particularly striking. The first was the belief that the detainees would provide a ‘treasure trove of information and intelligence.’ He points out that they did not. But more importantly it’s an admission that the real purpose of the detentions was intelligence gathering, and not dangerousness. Both at the time and today, that is an illegal, invalid reason for detention as was held by the Supreme Court Case Hamdi v. Rumsfeld: ‘indefinite detention for the purpose of interrogation is not authorized.’ The entire operation was flatly illegal.

“Second, Lehart says that detainees who have no charges against them should be released because it is constitutionally required. This correct legal belief would mandate the release of almost everyone at Guantánamo, not just those ‘cleared for release,’ which are already a majority. In this context I think of Shaker Aamer, a UK national, twice cleared for release and still at Guantánamo. It is an outrage that he and others remain there, almost 12 years after the prison is open. It ought to be an outrage to all of us.

“Finally, while Lenhart’s statements are much appreciated, the camp was an awful place when he ran it. Detainees were kept in dog-like cages and abused as has been attested in memoirs by Moazzam Begg and others. It would be good if Gen. Lenhart owned up to this as well.”