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Profile: Michael R. Lehnert
Positions that Michael R. Lehnert has held:
- Commander of Military Police at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo
Michael R. Lehnert was a participant or observer in the following events:
Camp X-Ray. The prisoners are housed in cages pictured. [Source: PBS]The first prisoners who arrived at Guantanamo Bay (see January 11, 2002) are accommodated in a location known as “Camp X-Ray.” This camp consists of small cages, measuring eight-by-eight feet, with open-air, chain-link walls, a concrete floor and a roof made of wood and metal. [American Forces Press Service, 1/14/2003] Inside, detainees are provided with a mattress, a blanket, a sheet, two towels, a toothbrush, shampoo, soap, flip-flops, two buckets, and plastic water bottles. [Guardian, 12/3/2003] One of the buckets is for water to wash with; the other to urinate in. [Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed, 7/26/2004 ] The cages have no plumbing and thus guards have to escort detainees to portable toilets. [American Forces Press Service, 1/14/2003] The cells at Camp X-Ray are described by released British prisoners as being without privacy and open to the elements as well as to “rats, snakes, and scorpions.” [Mirror, 3/12/2004] During the first weeks until about the middle of February, the prisoners, according to Asif Iqbal, are “not allowed any exercise at all.” [Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed, 7/26/2004 ] And later, Amnesty International confirms that prisoners are kept inside their cages “sometimes up to 24 hours a day with little exercise time out of their cells.” [Amnesty International, 10/27/2004] Only after some months, according to the Tipton Three, are prisoners allowed, “once a week, to walk in a small recreation yard for about 5 minutes.” [Mirror, 3/12/2004] Jamal Udeen recalls: “Recreation meant your legs were untied and you walked up and down a strip of gravel. In Camp X-Ray you only got five minutes.” [Mirror, 3/12/2004] At first, prisoners are allegedly allowed a shower—a cold two-minute one—only once a week, and never in solitary confinement. Later the number of showers is increased to three a week. [Mirror, 3/12/2004] Eating has to be done in 10 minutes and the amount of food is very little. [Guardian, 12/3/2003] Speaking to each other is strictly prohibited. [Guardian, 12/3/2003] Five days later, however, he will be allowed to speak to neighboring detainees. [Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed, 7/26/2004 ] But apparently worse than the accommodations is the uncertainty the prisoners are facing. “When we first got there, the level [of fear] was sky-high,” Asif Iqbal, Rhuhel Ahmed, and Shafiq Rasul, who were among the first to arrive, recall: “We were terrified we might be killed at any minute. The guards would say, ‘Nobody knows you’re here, all they know is that you’re missing and we could kill you and no one would know.’” [Guardian, 8/4/2004] The prison operations at Guantanamo are at first handled by two Joint Task Forces: JTF-160 and JTF-170. JTF-160, first under the command of Brig. Gen. Michael R. Lehnert, is responsible both for guarding the prisoners, and for dealing with migrants seeking asylum. JTF-170, under command of Major-General Michael E. Dunlavey, is tasked with handling interrogation operations for the Department of Defense and ensuring coordination among government agencies involved in the interrogation of the suspected terrorists. [American Forces Press Service, 1/14/2003] It consists of personnel from the DIA, the CIA, and the FBI. [Guardian, 10/16/2002] Sccording to later statements by several officers who served at Guantanamo, aggressive methods of interrogation are introduced in early 2002. Prisoners are derived of sleep, forced into “stress positions,” and put into extra cold, air-conditioned rooms. [New York Times, 5/13/2004]
Detainees being held at Guantanamo launch a hunger strike. Some reports say the direct cause is a guard who deliberately kicked a copy of the Koran. [Guardian, 12/3/2003; Mirror, 3/12/2004] Others say the reason is the fact that detainees are forbidden to wear head coverings, which Islamic tradition requires for prayer. Muhammad Ansar recalls: “At the camp, we were not allowed to say prayers. We couldn’t cover our heads.” [New York Times, 6/21/2004] In this version, the conflict begins when guards at Guantanamo reportedly order “an inmate to remove a turban he… fashioned from a sheet in violation of a camp rule to prevent detainees from concealing contraband.” Allegedly, the guards are not aware the man is praying when they forcefully remove his turban. A handful of prisoners respond the next day by starting a hunger strike. Two days later, on February 28, 194 prisoners join the strike by refusing their lunch, equaling about 70 percent of the prison population. In response to the strikes, Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Michael R. Lehnert, the Commander of Military Police at Guantanamo, repeals the contested rule, but announces turbans will be checked periodically. Prisoner Ansar later says that, as a result of the strike, “Prayers were allowed….” [New York Times, 6/21/2004] Nevertheless, 75 detainees still refuse lunch and dinner on Friday, and 85 refuse breakfast on Saturday. [CNN, 3/2/2002] Strikers are relocated to a single cellblock where they can be more effectively monitored. [Reuters, 3/7/2002] According to a March 2 CNN report, six hunger striking prisoners are forced to take intravenous liquids after they are found to have become seriously dehydrated. [CNN, 3/2/2002] Reuters reports that by March 7, 18 men are in need of being fed intravenously and that force has been used to provide fluids to “at least two” of them. [Reuters, 3/7/2002] At this point, less than 50 are still participating. However, most of the strikers have been taking some food some of the time. Only three have refused to eat all of the time. [Reuters, 3/7/2002] The strike thus slowly fades out. Lehnert later admits that the removed turban was not the only cause for the hunger strike, and that detainees were also motivated by frustration about their indefinite detention and uncertainty regarding their possible charges. [CNN, 3/2/2002] He stresses, however, that the detainees were mostly interested in media coverage. Lt. Col. Bill Cline claims that it is “their way of getting attention.” [Reuters, 3/7/2002]
Rick Baccus. [Source: PBS]Brig. Gen. Michael Lehnert is succeeded by Rhode Island Army National Guard Brig. Gen. Rick Baccus as commander of JTF-160 at Guantanamo. [American Forces Press Service, 1/14/2003] Soon, Baccus will be seen as out of sync with the more aggressive attitude towards the Guantanamo detainees held at the Defense Department. A Pentagon source, quoted by Newsweek, says Baccus mainly “wanted to keep the prisoners happy.” [Newsweek, 5/24/2004] At one point, Baccus says his MPs must ensure that the detainees are treated within the spirit of the Geneva Conventions. “Humane treatment,” he says, “means we have to provide them clothing, food, shelter, and allow them to practice their religious beliefs. However, what we don’t allow them to do are things like live in groups, use the canteen or work on work details.” [American Forces Press Service, 1/14/2003] Baccus’ statements reveal that he is an officer thoroughly trained in the use of the Geneva Conventions. Noting that the Third Geneva Convention states that detainees shall be incarcerated under similar conditions as those who guard them, he says: “You wouldn’t want detainees living in substandard conditions, which is something we in the United States wouldn’t want to happen. Obviously our soldiers—the guard force—who deal with them every day are living in the same area as the detainees at Camp Delta.” [American Forces Press Service, 1/14/2003] Baccus furthermore provides detainees with Korans, special meals for Ramadan, and information on prisoners’ rights. [American Forces Press Service, 1/14/2003] When addressing the detainees, he begins his speech saying, “[P]eace be with you,” and ends with, “[M]ay God be with you.” [Guardian, 10/16/2002] “All the service members here recognize the fact that they need to treat the detainees humanely,” he says. “Any time anyone lays down their arms, our culture has been to treat them as non-combatant and humanely.” [American Forces Press Service, 1/14/2003] Harsh interrogation tactics may have been employed without Baccus’ knowledge. After his replacement in October 2002, he will say, “In no instance did I interfere with interrogations.” [Guardian, 10/16/2002] However, there is at least one worrying practice he is aware of. He later says medical records of prisoners are routinely shared with military intelligence personnel. Doctors and medics advise interrogators to help them determine the prisoners’ ability to endure the questioning. [Washington Post, 6/10/2004]
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