By Ramona Joyce
Special to American Forces Press Service
April 2, 2008 - Three months ago, Gregory J. Zanetti was a stockbroker and financial advisor in New Mexico. Today, he is an Army National Guard brigadier general who helps lead a multi-branch team of 2,200 personnel in what he describes as the "most misunderstood assignment in the military." "It is a mission misunderstood by most, reviled by some and unique to everyone," said Zanetti, deputy commander of Joint Task Force Guantanamo, the organization that has held and interrogated enemy combatants and terrorism suspects from the global war on terrorism since 2002.
Zanetti yesterday addressed more than 1,000 members of the American Legion and American Legion Auxiliary gathered in the nation's capital this week for the 48th Annual Washington Conference and Legislative Rally.
The general explained in detail and candor the many ways "Gitmo" detainees are given fair and humane treatment, from culturally appropriate meals to numerous spiritual and recreational opportunities. One hundred medical personnel cover the needs of roughly 280 detainees.
The detainees, however, "believe the camps are an extension of the battlefield," Zanetti explained, adding that they have attempted to form new terror cells inside the fence and frequently fling feces and other bodily fluids at guards.
Zanetti recollected for Legionnaires an incident in which a detainee told a female guard that he was going to rape her and, after he gets out, find her and kill her and her family. The soldier shook it off and went back to work for another 12-hour day. The general was impressed by her response. "That's when I fully realized we are going to win this war," Zanetti said, "her toughness."
Zanetti gave a more comprehensive presentation to the American Legion's National Security and Foreign Affairs Commissions on March 31. In that forum, he spoke often of a general "disconnect" between public perception and what really goes on at Guantanamo Bay, particularly when it comes to allegations of torture against detainees. "(Americans) believe the people who want to kill them, but distrust the people who are trying to protect them," the general said.
Zanetti drew a standing ovation yesterday when he expressed frustration over frequent questions alleging detainee abuse at what he calls "the most transparent detention facility in the world."
With all the measures taken to assure fair treatment of the terror suspects, people need to "quit talking to me about abuse and torture," he said. "Frankly, I'm sick of it."
(Ramona Joyce is media relations manager for the American Legion.)