Admiral takes charge of Trump’s Guantanamo prison
By CAROL ROSENBERG | Miami Herald | Published: April 7, 2017
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Tribune News Service) — Guantanamo entered a new era Friday with the installation of the first prison camp commander of the Trump administration, an admiral charged with running the wartime prison that could grow for the first time in nearly a decade.
“The work you do, the mission you execute is vitally important, incredibly complex and not well understood by many people,” said Rear Adm. Edward Cashman as he assumed command of the detention center, which holds 41 captives and is run by a 1,750-member staff.
A day earlier, the head of the Southern Command urged Congress to fund a new prison staff barracks, signaling the unending nature of the detention center President George W. Bush opened, President Barack Obama failed to close, and President Donald Trump vowed to load up “with some bad dudes.”
Adm. Kurt Tidd, the Southcom commander, arrived Thursday night to preside at the brief ceremony in the base chapel — and introduce Cashman to representatives of the Navy community of about 5,500 residents as “one of our Navy’s rising stars.” Tidd called Cashman “no stranger to pressure and intense scrutiny” as he became the 17th commander of detainee operations.
“Make no mistake about it, detainee operations are an essential tool in our counterterrorism toolkit. They?’re an operational, legal and moral imperative against an unconventional enemy,” Tidd said.
A total of 41 captives remain of the 780 or so men and boys who passed through the prison camps since a Marine general opened Camp X-Ray in January 2002. If Congress hadn’t blocked it, the Obama administration would have transferred the last 41 to the United States to close that chapter of history. Instead, 10 of those who remain have been charged at the war court, called military commissions, and the rest are considered prisoners in the war on terror.
The departing commander, Rear Adm. Peter J. Clarke, was the first submariner to lead the detention center staff, and left to an uncertain future. He was temporarily assigned to the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the Chief of Naval Personnel, pending a future assignment.
He was also the last so-called closer, a detention center commander who ran the camps during an aggressive period of downsizing of the detainees, if not the staff.
When he took charge, in late 2015, there were 112 captives and a staff of about 2,100 troops and civilians — a ratio of nearly 19 staff for every prisoner. He was charged with sending away captives as State and Defense Department envoys arranged for their transfer. And he did so with alacrity, dispatching 71 detainees to such far-flung locations as Mauritania in western Africa, Oman on the Arabian Sea and Serbia in southeast Europe.
Friday, Cashman’s staff numbered about 1,550 troops and 200 civilians. That’s nearly 38 troops for each prisoner — from guards to medical staff to personnel and intelligence specialists. Many were drawn from the National Guard assignments of a year or less serving in what Tidd called a force of “ordinary people performing an extraordinarily important mission.”
Cashman takes charge as essentially the “re-opener” — poised to accept the first new prisoner since March 2008, if U.S. forces take a captive suitable for prisoner-of-war-style detention or war crimes trial by military commissions.
“We don’t know what the future holds,” Tidd told the assembly. “We know that detainee operations at Guantanamo will continue unless or until the very last detainee departs the island. We know that these missions will continue unless otherwise directed by our secretary of defense and our president. We know this mission might evolve as we continue confronting threats to our nation and to our way of life.
“If operations here expand, if they change, or if they stay the same, you’re ready.”
Cashman, a Massachusetts native, got a mechanical engineering degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Most of his career has been in the Navy, although prior to this position he was director of the Pentagon’s Joint Integrated Air and Missile Defense Organization, which involves all the services.
The Joint Task Force commander has oversight of the predominantly Army guard force, an intelligence unit, logistics and personnel as well as a U.S. Coast Guard unit that patrols parts of Guantanamo Bay and the waters off the coastal prison complex.
Cashman ran a combined Navy-Coast Guard operation of patrol craft in the Persian Gulf, where U.S. the military sometimes engages Iranian vessels. That’s just what happened in January 2012, when a Coast Guard patrol boat, the Monomoy, saved six Iranian mariners from an unseaworthy Iranian cargo dhow whose engine room was flooding in a “nighttime rescue at sea” celebrated by Cashman, then commander of Task Force 55, overseeing the operation.
In his farewell remarks, Clarke paid particular homage to the 100 or so Navy medical staffers who tend to captors and captives in what he called “the most scrutinized military medicine mission in the world.”
Southcom surged medical staff into the prison’s cell blocks at the height of the sweeping 2013 hunger strike. And, as he left Friday, Clarke called the captives “more compliant as patients than our own troopers and the American population as a whole.”
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