New Navy boss takes charge of Guantánamo detention center

A 29-year career Naval officer who has served at the White House took charge of the prison camps at the U.S. Navy Base at Guantánamo Thursday, becoming the 14th commander to run the controversial detention center in southeast Cuba.

Marine Gen. John Kelly, chief of the U.S. Southern Command, took part in the ceremony that installed Rear Adm. Kyle Cozad as responsible for the 149 detainees and about 2,200 staff, mostly military, at the prison operation, said Army Col. Greg Julian at Southcom.

No independent media were on hand for the event, said Navy Capt. Tom Gresback, the new detention center spokesman.

Cozad replaces Rear Adm. Richard “Rhett” Butler, like Cozad a pilot, who was reassigned to Norfolk, Va., to take charge of Strike Force Training Atlantic — where the U.S. Navy prepares U.S. East Coast naval forces for combat.

Butler was in charge during a period of extraordinary secrecy at the prison camps, including a blackout on disclosure of figures in the long-running hunger strike and systematic censorship of photography showing prison camp guard and detainee features.

Cozad took charge during the Muslim daylight fasting holiday of Ramadan — the 13th in U.S. custody for many of the detainees, the first for most troops — when the military has traditionally upended its so-called prison camp battle rhythm. During Ramadan, troops in the past were more subdued by day and focused their energies at night, including special midnight meals and after-hour force-feeding of hunger strikers.

A P-3 surveillance plane pilot, Cozad worked at the White House Situation Room from 2010 to 2012. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1985, according to his official biography, with a bachelor’s degree in Oceanography and Physics.

Other members of the class included Rear Admiral Rick L. Williamson, commander of the Navy’s Jacksonville headquarters covering Guantánamo, Navy Region Southeast; former astronaut Lisa Nowak and former Los Angeles Raiders running back Napoleon McCallum.

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