Guantánamo

Guantánamo commander awaiting transfer order, too

Rear Adm. Peter J.Clarke taking reporters questions on Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016 at Detention Center headquarters at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
Rear Adm. Peter J.Clarke taking reporters questions on Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016 at Detention Center headquarters at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. crosenberg@miamiherald.com

With President-elect Donald Trump taking office in less than six weeks, the last 59 detainees are wondering if they’ll be moved out before Barack Obama leaves office.

That goes for the detention center chief, too. Navy Rear Adm. Peter Clarke, the 16th commander of Joint Task Force Guantánamo, which runs the prison, told reporters Sunday morning: “I do not have orders yet. So I don’t know when I will transfer.”

He’s not the only one. Of the remaining 59 captives, 21 are approved for release or repatriation to other nations under security assurances that satisfy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter. But the admiral refused to say Sunday whether he’s received orders to transfer any of the 21 cleared captives.

The Pentagon announced last month that it was sending Navy Rear Adm. Edward Cashman to relieve Clarke, who a year ago became the ninth commander assigned to run prison operations since Obama ordered his administration to close it.

What about the detainees? Has he received orders to transfer any of the 21 cleared captives to a third country? “We do not discuss our operations in advance. So I can’t talk about whether there are any pending transfers or not.”

During a similar Sunday morning briefing of reporters in October, Clarke said he had no transfer orders.

Clarke also offered that, in his opinion, a halt in releases from the prison could harm detainee morale.

“Many of them believe that they will be transferred before the end of the administration. Certainly there are 21 who are approved for transfer, cleared, no longer requiring law of war detention. And all 21 of them are hopeful they would be transferred.

“If they’re not, then I believe that some of them may act out when they realize that they’re not going to be transferred. If we get to that.”

Clarke and other senior staff, however, used every opportunity in a weekend visit to flatly dismiss a CBS report that detainees were so rattled by the election of Trump that they asked the guard force for tranquilizers and sleeping pills. During his campaign, Trump vowed to “load up” the detention center.

“This story you read about great despair and the end of the world and many of them asking about tranquilizers and sleeping pills — bald-faced lie,” Clarke said on the first media visit to the detention center since CBS got exclusive access. “Go ask that lawyer why he made up that story.”

MORE NEWS: What will President Trump do with Guantánamo?

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg

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