Guantanamo Prison Chief Says He Has No Say in Trump Policy

In this May 13, 2009 file photo, reviewed by the U.S. military, the sun rises over the Guantanamo detention facility on the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)
In this May 13, 2009 file photo, reviewed by the U.S. military, the sun rises over the Guantanamo detention facility on the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)

The prison commander said Sunday he has neither seen nor wants a say on any coming Trump administration executive order that will drive policy on law of war detention here.

"Nobody's asked for my opinion," Rear Adm. Peter J. Clarke said at a news conference. A reporter asked the 16th commander of the wartime prison whether he has been provided a draft of President Donald Trump's evolving Guantanamo policy.

He has not. "I don't need to provide my input to policy decisions. I simply need to understand how the policy's going to be carried out," he said.

To that end, Clarke said he had yet to receive an order to prepare to receive new captives. The last captive arrived nearly a decade ago, and is held in Guantanamo's most secret prison, Camp 7. The admiral said he expected there would be time to prepare.

"I'm confident that I will get a little more notice than, 'There's a plane in the air that's going to land in four hours' or whatever the case may be," he said. "A few days, if that's all I have, will be adequate for me to receive a small number of detainees."

Guantanamo prison has 41 captives, a staff of 1,650 troops and civilians and current capacity for as many as 200 more war-on-terror detainees.

The New York Times obtained a draft executive order that had the White House authorizing the addition of captives tied to the Islamic State. The detention center currently has 41 captives, all believed tied to al-Qaida or the Taliban, and commanders say that, depending on who arrives and how they might need to be imprisoned, Guantanamo could perhaps absorb 200 more captives.

ISIS emerged after establishment of the prison here under Congress' post- 9/11 Authorization for the Use of Military Force. So it does not explicitly identify the Islamic State as an enemy. Moreover, defense lawyers warn that some of detainees, most in their late 30s and 40s, fear the brutality of ISIS. One compared imprisoning al-Qaida and ISIS members together to jailing the Crips with the Bloods.

Clarke's commanders echoed his comments that no explicit order had been given to prepare for new captives. As a candidate, Trump said he would reverse former President Barack Obama's 2009 closure order and "load it up with bad dudes." The warden, Army Col. Steve Gabavics, said Saturday that even before the election he had his staff review the procedures for in-processing a new arrival as part of typical, periodic military planning.

But the admiral made clear on Sunday morning, a day after four news organizations were given a day's access in and around the Detention Center Zone: "We're not planning right now because we don't know what to plan on. But we have reviewed all of our procedures including capacities and capabilities and tried to identify to the best of our ability what the constraints would be."

Guantanamo has never had female prisoners but some in the command staff have wondered if some might be coming. Clarke was asked if, because it has long been prison practice that female guards don't watch men shower, whether a policy would be adopted to prohibit male soldiers from supervising female captives in the shower.

"We operate gender neutral from a guard force perspective," the admiral replied. "I don't believe there will be any challenges associated with providing female detainees the necessary privacy just like we provide male detainees the necessary privacy right now with female guards present."

Asked whether that reply constituted an assurance that male soldiers would not be supervising female detainee showers, Clarke replied: "I'm not ready to answer that question.

"We will do what is appropriate for safe and humane care and custody. And we will respect detainees' privacy to the maximum extent possible consistent with our security needs."

On the evolving executive order, Clarke said it would be unnecessary for a commander at the "tactical level" to weigh in on proposed policy. He said his interests are represented elsewhere -- describing a chain of command for implementation of a White House order as from the secretary of defense through the joint staff to the Pentagon's U.S. Southern Command, which has oversight of the detention center currently staffed by 1,650 troops and civilians.

"I think it's going to be overarching policy for whether and how the United States continues detention operations," Clarke said of Trump's coming order. "That policy then has to be distilled into something operational and something technical."

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