Obama’s Guantánamo closers make secret trip to prison camps, condemn status quo

The two men charged with emptying the prison camps at Guantánamo of the last 164 captives visited the U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba on Monday and issued a strong rebuke of the status quo.

“For us, it is not merely about treating detainees humanely, it is about ensuring that our operations reflect the values for which America stands,” said Paul Lewis, the Pentagon’s new special envoy for the closure of Guantánamo who traveled to the base Monday with his State Department counterpart for secret meetings at the prison camps.

The mostly U.S. Army, 2,100-strong staff of the prison camp compound that holds the last 164 captives, just six of them facing war crimes trial, soldier at the base under the motto of “Safe, Humane, Legal and Transparent” detention. After Monday’s mission to the camps, the military had no comment on the visit in which Lewis adapted the motto to argue it was time to put the prison camp out of business.

“Our troops continue to perform admirably in extremely difficult circumstances,” Lewis said just days after the Army captain in charge of one maximum-security compound told BBC Radio that her troops were suffering twice the rate of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder of other American troops serving in other theaters of warfare.

“We’ll manage the facility and detainees until told to do otherwise,” said Army Col. Greg Julian, spokesman for the U.S. Southern Command in Miami whose commander, Marine Gen. John Kelly, has oversight of what goes on at the prison camps.

Obama announced creation of the two special envoy jobs assigned to close the prison in May at a time of a surging prison camps hunger strike that encompassed more than 100 captives. Monday, 15 of the men were still on fasts protesting their detention and all 15 were approved for restraint-chair tube feedings, said Navy Cmdr. John Filostrat, the prison spokesman.

Also Monday, the two men who had separately visited the prison camps before made their first joint trip to the base under a veil of secrecy. Military spokesmen would not say who they met, what they saw or what was discussed.

The visit also comes at a time of debate inside Congress on whether to ease harsh restrictions on Guantánamo detainee transfers that have thwarted Obama’s closure ambition, notably by forbidding the relocation of the captives at the base in Cuba to U.S. soil.

Lewis’ counterpart, State Department envoy Clifford Sloan, said in a statement after returning to Washington, D.C., that the closers are “moving ahead on the President’s commitment to close the detention facility responsibly, and we are making progress.”

He also issued a statement of gratitude to the prison camps staff, whose guards are drawn from the regular Army as well as National Guard units of Military Police across the nation who are called up to one-year rotations to work at the prison where 84 of the 164 captives have been approved for transfer or release.

“We are grateful for the dedicated work of the military in running the facility under very challenging circumstances,” Sloan said. “We are working as hard as we can to close the facility.”

Some of the commanders have highlighted recently how troubled and thankless is the duty of guarding the captives. The chief guard, Army Col. John V. Bogdan, also told CBS’ Lesley Stahl in September that his troops suffer nearly twice as much PTSD as troops returning from the battlefield because some of the captives throw their excrement and bodily fluids on the guards to protest their detention.

Military sources have not been able to provide statistics that support that claim.

Read more Guantánamo stories from the Miami Herald

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