GITMO General Rates Force Protection High With Detainee Care
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
NAVAL STATION GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, June 21, 2002 Joint Task Force 160's primary mission is taking care of captured enemy combatants from the war on terrorism, but the outfit's commander emphasizes that the safety and security of his people is as important -- or more so.
"We have to make sure our security posture for the entire area is taken care of. We must also observe operations security issues," said Rhode Island Army National Guard Brig. Gen. Rick Baccus, who succeeded Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Michael R. Lehnert as task force commander on March 28. He formerly commanded the 43rd Military Police Brigade in Warwick, R.I.
"We have to be about the protection of our own service men and women assigned here," said Baccus, who wears the Army Ranger and Special Forces tabs and the master parachutist and pathfinder badges. Joint Task Force 160, composed of more than 1,700 U.S. service members and civilians, is responsible for receiving and securing detainees in support of the global war on terrorism.
"We also support Joint Task Force 170 and have a mission for migrant operations," Baccus noted. "For instance, if there's a surge of Haitians or Cubans looking for asylum, we have to be prepared to react to that."
JTF 170 handles interrogation operations for the Department of Defense and ensures coordination among government agencies involved in the interrogation of the suspected terrorists.
As to the detainees, Baccus said the task force must ensure they're treated humanely within the spirit of the Geneva Convention. "Humane treatment means we have to provide them clothing, food, shelter and allow them to practice their religious beliefs," the general said. "However, what we don't allow them to do are things like live in groups, use the canteen or work on work details."
The Geneva Convention states that those who are guarding and caring for the detainees should live under similar conditions as those incarcerated, he noted. "You wouldn't want detainees living in substandard conditions, which is something we in the United States wouldn't want to happen," he said. "Obviously our soldiers -- the guard force -- who deal with them every day are living in the same area as the detainees at Camp Delta."
There are 564 captured enemy combatants in the 612-unit detention facility at Camp Delta. If they keep arriving as they have this month -- 180 so far -- the facility will soon run out of space. If that happens, solving the problem depends on what Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld decides to do, Baccus said.
The task force moved 300 detainees from Camp X-Ray to Delta on April 28 and 29. At X-Ray, they lived in 8 feet by 8 feet units with open-air, chain-link walls, a concrete floor and a combination wood and metal roof. At Camp Delta, their units measure 8 feet by 6 feet, 8 inches.
"We've a much more secure facility to house them in Camp Delta," Baccus said. "There is indoor plumbing, exercise areas are better controlled, and detainees are out of the sun more."
Caring for detainees is much easier at Camp Delta, he noted. "For instance, the guards don't have to escort them to the bathroom all the time and those types of things," he said. "That's a great improvement in terms of how the guards have to deal with them on a daily basis."
Each of Camp Delta's 612 units has a flush toilet, metal bed frame and a sink with running water. None of that was available at Camp X-Ray, where guards had to escort detainees to portable toilets.
"All the service members here recognize the fact that they need to treat the detainees humanely," he pointed out. "Any time anyone lays down their arms, our culture has been to treat them as noncombatant and humanely.
"The detainees are accepting their incarceration as a matter of course," he said.
Baccus said Joint Task Force 160's accomplishments since the first detainees arrived in January show "a tremendous effort on the part of all the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen involved.
"We've gone from zero in January to 564 to date," he said. "That certainly says something about the quality of the service men and women who are serving here."