Major Kyndra Miller Rotunda, a JAG officer in the U.S. Army Individual Ready Reserve, is author of the new book, Honor Bound: Inside the Guantanamo Trials. A former prosecutor at the Office of Military Commissions and Gitmo, in an interview with National Review Online editor Kathryn Lopez, Major Rotunda sheds light on war and the law, Guantanamo, and Thursday’s Supreme Court decision, and more.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: So is it Club Gitmo?
Major Kyndra Miller Rotunda: To some extent, yes, it is Club Gitmo. Detainees live in open bays and have up to 12 hours of exercise time each day. During that time they can participate in a number of sports including basketball, soccer, and ping-pong. They also enjoy an extensive library (Harry Potter translated into Arabic is among the most popular titles), a selection of videos, an exercise facility, and even a garden. Detainees receive the call to prayer five times a day and during that time the guards cannot interrupt detainees for at least 20 minutes. This restriction even applies to detainees who are not praying. The best evidence of how detainees are treated in Gitmo is their own report. One was offered release and decided to stay until the weather was warmer in his own country. Another closed his letters home with, “wishing you were here” and a third even asked the U.S. government to move his entire family to Gitmo.
What’s the worst thing about Guantanamo Bay?
Major Rotunda: Hands down, the worst thing about Guantanamo Bay is the public affairs aspect. For an unknown reason, the Department of Defense refuses to answer criticisms about Guantanamo Bay and has allowed untrue rumors to blacken America’s international reputation. The Church Committee (headed by Vice Admiral Church) investigated claims of “torture” and detainee mistreatment in Guantanamo Bay. It interviewed nearly 1,000 people and combed through countless documents. In Guantanamo Bay, there had been over 24,000 interrogations and investigators found only three incidences of abuse in Gitmo. Two of them involved female interrogators who “touched and spoke to detainees in a sexually suggestive manner.” For example, one sat briefly on a detainee’s lap and put her arms around his neck.
The truth is, the U.S. exceeds the Geneva Conventions in many important respects. But, the U.S. hides its light under a bushel basket by failing to set the record straight. My book, Honor Bound: Inside the Guantanamo Trials, reveals the many different ways that the U.S. exceeds Geneva and provides more privileges to detainees than POWs would receive. In its pages, learn how the U.S. suffered a dangerous detainee riot from within and was forced to call for back-up to get control of the camp; and how the U.S. gave detainee David Hicks an $800.00 (hand tailored) Brooks Brother Suit for his trial.
Lopez: What’s the worst thing that will come of closing it down?
Major Rotunda: If the U.S. decides to close down Guantanamo Bay, the worst mistake it could make would be to move the detainees to the United States. A camp inside the U.S. would become a magnet for radical Islamic terrorists looking to martyr themselves (and the detainees inside) and attack within our own country, again. Furthermore, lawyers for the detainees would seize the opportunity to claim asylum for their clients, which would kick off another round of detainee related litigation. The U.S. originally decided to hold detainees in Guantanamo Bay for safety and security reasons. Those safety concerns still exist. Nobody wants terrorists for neighbors.
Lopez: Are there any advantages to closing it down?
Major Rotunda: I suppose the only advantage to closing Guantanamo Bay is that it would no longer be a target for critics. But, they will find others. Also, Boumediene v. Bush seems to apply narrowly to detainees held in Guantanamo Bay. Presumably, those held in Iraq or Afghanistan, or elsewhere, will not receive Constitutional protections like those held in Guantanamo Bay. That is one reason to stop bringing detainees to Gitmo.
Lopez: If you had the opportunity to advise Senator McCain to reconsider his Guantanamo Bay position, what would you say to him?
Major Rotunda: I would tell Senator McCain what I explained above in the closing-down question. Further, those who criticize Guantanamo Bay will not get down on their knees and thank the administration for closing Guantanamo Bay. It will consider its closure as an admission that Gitmo is the Gulag of our time. We must consider what to do with detainees when we close down Gitmo. If there is no better alternative (and I don’t think there is) then Guantanamo Bay should remain in business.