Gen. John Kelly: Gitmo Detainees 'All Bad Boys,' But No One's Trying to Impede Their Release

By Susan Jones | January 11, 2016 | 10:43am EST
In this June 27, 2006 file photo, U.S. military guards walk within Camp Delta military-run prison, at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba. A senior U.S. official says the first of 17 detainees scheduled to be released from the Guantanamo Bay prison in January will be transferred next week, as the Obama administration continues efforts to reduce the population at the controversial detention center. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)

( - Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly, Commander of U.S. Southern Command until he retires at the end of January, told reporters last week that the remaining 105 inmates held at the U.S. Navy base are "all bad boys."

Nevertheless, around 50 of them have been cleared for release as President Obama insists on closing down the prison.

"They are all bad boys. We have dossiers on all of them. Some of them were more effective in being bad boys than others. You know, you -- we can -- I think we can all quibble on whether 13 or 12 or 8 years in -- in detention is enough to have them -- having paid for whatever they did, but they're -- they're bad guys."

President Obama has said he is determined to close the military prison before he leaves office, and that means shipping the inmates to countries that promise to monitor them. Just last week, one inmate was shipped to Kuwait and two others went to the West African nation of Ghana.

Congress has passed laws barring the transfer of Gitmo inmates to the United States, something President Obama wants to do with the worst of the worst -- those who cannot be released to third countries. A showdown on that question is looming in Obama's final year.

At a news conference last Friday, Kelly rejected as "complete nonsense" the suggestion that anyone in the Defense Department, in the military or working at Gitmo is trying to slow down or impede the release of detainees:

"It's an insult, frankly, to a serving military officer or a civil servant in this building to be accused of -- whether we agree or disagree with any of the policies, that we would in anyway impede the progress.

"The president wants to close it; I have a role, not in closing it -- I have a role in detention ops. My only role in transfers is, give me a name, give me a country, give me a timeframe, and I will get the person to that country.

"That's my role in detention ops. We facilitate the movement of foreign delegations if they want to come down. We never ever, ever, ever do anything but facilitate their immediate movement when they want to come to Guantanamo Bay.

"We -- typically, the process is, if a delegation wants to come, or even if they don't want to come, when there's a transfer -- a country interested in a transfer, they are provided a summary, pretty detailed summary of the medical condition of the individual.

"And if they do come to Guantanamo, sometimes they will come with questions, because they have been given an advance copy of that medical thing. And not all of transfers is associated with foreign delegations traveling down.

"And always, when they come down, as many as you talk to, they can talk to detainees any length of time they want -- any length of time they want. Typically, a conversation goes about 30 minutes, and it goes something like, do you want to come? Do you want to leave Guantanamo? And the answer is yes, and that's about the extent of it.

"Then they will typically -- the foreign delegation will typically talk to my doctors. They will talk, sometimes, to the guard personnel and just ask, how does this guy behave? What's his -- you know, life's -- you know, whatever.

"And then they leave and they eventually typically get word that the country will take them, and then we'll rework that. That's where I take over and execute the transfer."

'None of my business'

Kelly said during his four-year stint as head of Southern Command, the number of foreign delegations arriving to check out prisoners has increased.

"And I have no idea what these countries are offered to take these guys. Zero idea. Never asked the question -- none of my business.

So when they come... I think they're just going through the motion. I think they've already decided whatever the deal -- if there is a deal -- and they come.

"I think it -- it might be, particularly the -- the Western countries, it might be that they can then sell it to their -- to their own population, that, "no, we went to Gitmo, we met with the guy. He seemed -- seemed -- you know, honest in that he'd be willing to be a good boy."

"But it's pretty quick. But I don't think it -- I don't think they come there, and then make up their mind. I think they come here to -- to get the check and -- and, as I say, they always talk to at least the docs, and usually to the -- to my senior confinement guy, if you will, the colonel, to find about behavior and all that kind of -- and frankly, the vast majority of them (inmates) are very compliant and kind of waiting."

One of President Obama's arguments for closing Guantanamo Bay is the expense. But Kelly said it depends on how you count the expense:

"Guantanamo is a functioning base and has been for 100 years," he said. "I, frankly, when they come up with these cost estimates, what it costs per detainee and all that, we were never asked, SOUTHCOM. Someone else comes up with the number.

"But I know that if you look at my Gitmo budget is something on the order of $100-plus million, but that is -- that is an approximate. But you know, the facility is in place, up and running. If you keep counting the cost of the facility, which I guess you should, I mean, it's an expensive place...But you know, as a nation, you make a decision on what you're going to spend your money on.

"If Guantanamo -- if to detain a detainee in Guantanamo cost more money than it would be if you say, put that person to the United States, if that's the policy decision, then so be it.

"I don't really have an opinion on -- on whether it's too expensive or not. I just know that, you know, the money I'm given, I spend very frugally. And as I said, they're very, very well taken care of."

Another batch of Gitmo prisoners is expected to be transfered this month, but Kelly shrugged it off:

"I mean, if they go back to the fight, we'll probably kill them. So that's a good thing."

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