Pentagon’s Exiting Guantánamo Prison Architect Reverses Position on Detainee Policies

Wednesday, August 07, 2013
William Lietzau (photo: Department of Defense)

A senior Department of Defense official who helped the George W. Bush administration set up the Guantánamo Bay detention facility and who later oversaw the prison under President Barack Obama now says the policy of indefinitely holding detainees was a mistake.


William Lietzau, who is stepping down as the Pentagon’s deputy assistant defense secretary for detainee affairs, told the British newspaper The Daily Mail that Guantánamo should never have been created. He added that the detainees should have been legally designated as prisoners of war and held in Afghanistan, or charged with crimes and taken to U.S. federal prisons.


Lietzau also recommended that Obama announce that the war with al-Qaeda is over in order to shutter Guantánamo. That way the administration would remove any justification under international law for continuing to hold prisoners without charging them with crimes.


He acknowledged that the restrictions imposed by Congress on transfer or release of prisoners curtailed efforts to close the prison. He suggested that a more radical approach is needed to achieve that goal. “‘Just like you can’t kill your way out of this war, you’re not going to transfer your way out of Gitmo,” he told the newspaper. “The really hard question is, ‘How do you end this war?’ Once you do, we legally have to let them all go, other than those we prosecute.”


Before overseeing the controversial prison for three and a half years, Lietzau served as a senior military lawyer under George W. Bush, and in that capacity he designed the Guantánamo military commissions for trying terrorist suspects. “He has frequently defended prisoner-of-war-style indefinite detention without trial, saying it is a moral, lawful and humane part of warfare,” wrote Charlie Savage of The New York Times.


According to The Daily Mail, Lietzau said that the government’s decision to ignore international law and the Geneva Conventions governing the treatment of war prisoners resulted in detainees being “treated badly, and this is not something we are proud of.”


McClatchy Newspapers reported that on the day after the Obama administration announced Lietzau was resigning to accept a position in the private sector, two Guantánamo detainees would be released and sent home to Algeria. Administration officials said the timing of the two events was purely coincidental.


McClatchy also presented a different view of Lietzau, characterizing the deputy assistant defense secretary as “a tough defender of holding suspected terrorists at Guantanamo even if there was not enough evidence to charge them with a crime.” This characterization was based on information provided by an unidentified administration official who spoke with the newspaper chain.


“He was an obstacle,” the official said. “There appeared to be divergent views on the existence of the facility. He just wasn’t on board with the president.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Why We Should Shut Down Guantanamo: Prison Camp's Jailer-in-Chief Makes Jaw-Dropping U-Turn and says it Should Never Have Been Built (by David Rose, Daily Mail)

Official Who Oversaw Guantanamo Resigns as U.S. Says it Will Send 2 Detainees to Algeria (by Matthew Schofield, Hannah Allam and Lesley Clark, McClatchy)

William K. Lietzau (Wikipedia)

U.S. to Send 2 at Guantánamo Back to Algeria, Saying Security Concerns Are Met (by Charlie Savage, New York Times)

Obama Plans $195 Million in Renovation and New Construction at Guantánamo (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)

Guantánamo Prison Stays Open, while the U.S. Office Trying to Close it gets Shut Down (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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