Officer tapped to run Gitmo went to school with Obama

By ANDREW O. SELSKY | THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Published: February 1, 2009

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A senior Navy officer based in Hawaii who once went to school with President Barack Obama will be the next commander of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the Pentagon said Friday.

Rear Adm. Thomas H. Copeman III has been assigned as commander of the Joint Task Force that runs the U.S. offshore prison in Cuba, said Adm. Gary Roughead, the chief of naval operations.

Copeman — the son and grandson of Navy veterans — is the deputy chief of staff for operations, training and readiness for the U.S. Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor.

The current commander of Joint Task Force-Guantanamo is Navy Rear Adm. David Thomas, who assumed a two-year tour of duty last May, according to Navy Cmdr. Pauline Storum, director of public affairs for the joint task force.

Military press officials at the Pentagon, Pearl Harbor and Guantanamo said they did not know when the change of command would occur.

In one of his first acts as president, Obama ordered the detention center closed within a year. About 245 suspected al-Qaida and Taliban members and others are locked up at the U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba.

The U.S. military intends to maintain the Guantanamo base, which is operated under a separate military command structure, even after the detention center closes.

Obama and Copeman graduated from Punahou School in Hawaii two years apart. Copeman has said in previously published reports that he didn’t know Obama among the roughly 1,600 students at its high school. The two have since met.

Rear Admiral Tom Copeman