Guantanamo Facility Needed ‘for Foreseeable Future,’ Admiral Says
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 11, 2007 The United States will need a detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for as long as the country is fighting a war on terror, the admiral in charge of operations there said today.
“I think that we’ll have a detention facility and a detention mission for the foreseeable future,” Navy Rear Adm. Harry Harris Jr., commander of Joint task Force Guantanamo Bay, said in an interview here today -- the fifth anniversary of the start of detention operations at Guantanamo.
“The president has said that he would like to see Guantanamo closed when it’s no longer necessary, and we support that, of course, and we believe in that,” Harris added. “The issue is when it’s no longer necessary. And I believe that today, as long as we’re in the fight, as long as we’re in the global war on terror, and as long as we have forces engaging the enemy in Afghanistan and in Iraq, there is a need for a facility like Guantanamo.”
About 395 detainees at the detention facility are being held in four camps on the base, guarded around the clock by sailors and soldiers with special detention operations training targeted to the unique mission at Guantanamo Bay.
While many people around the world are protesting the detention facility on today’s anniversary, Harris said it’s important to keep in mind that the detainees here are dangerous enemy combatants intent on killing Americans.
“One of the things that I believe that we’ve learned over the years of our experience in Guantanamo is that the detainees are enemy combatants, and they never lose sight of that fact. They know who the enemy is, and the enemy is us, and they never forget that,” Harris said. “We have a tendency to forget that they are enemies, and we have to always be on our guard.”
Another lesson learned at Guantanamo is that more openness in operations leads to more accurate media coverage. U.S. officials believe media coverage of operations at Guantanamo has been rife with misconceptions and often negative, but that trend is changing, Harris said.
“I believe that the media coverage is shifting to be more factual and truthful about what is happening in Guantanamo. We’re seeing that as we expose Guantanamo to a broad range of media, international media as well as U.S. domestic media,” Harris said.
He noted that more than 300 media representatives from more than 200 outlets around the world visited Guantanamo Bay in 2006. Reporters from Arab, South American, Japanese and European media agencies visited the island base. “The reporters are professionals who come there, and they get to see all the stuff that’s happening in Guantanamo,” Harris said.
“And when they see it, when the light of day shines on it, then it’s hard to say that the detainees are kept incommunicado in some black hole of Guantanamo and all these other misperceptions that you read from reporters who report on Guantanamo without having had the benefit of actually visiting Guantanamo,” he said.
“So this is a good thing,” he added. “We should be transparent as possible, and we strive for transparency, and transparency is actually in our mission statement.”
He also said he tells servicemembers working at Guantanamo Bay that a free press is part of what makes America great. “I tell them that you’re going to get both sides of the coin and that’s the beauty of our nation. You know, you’re going to have the facts truthfully reported, and you’re going to have innuendo and other stuff not truthfully reported, and that’s just part of the deal,” he said.
“But I believe, though, that the troops understand that the leadership acknowledges and supports them and believes strongly in the mission that they’re doing.”