By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Feb. 3, 2009 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has selected a Navy four-star admiral to lead an assessment of operations at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a senior Defense Department official said here today. Adm. Patrick M. Walsh, the vice chief of Naval Operations, will head the review, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters.
The White House has tasked the Pentagon to assess the detention operations at Guantanamo Bay as part of President Barack Obama's decision to close the facility, Morrell said.
Obama issued an executive order Jan. 22 that directs the closure of the Guantanamo detention center within a year. Obama signed another executive order that day directing the stand-up of a special interagency task force that will study the future disposition of present Guantanamo detainees who cannot be transferred to other countries and who pose a serious danger to the United States.
Another presidential executive order issued Jan. 22 directs the U.S. military and other U.S. agencies to follow the Army Field Manual, which bans torture when interrogating detainees "to promote the safe, lawful and humane treatment of individuals in United States custody," Obama said at the signing ceremony. The directive, Obama added, highlights the importance for the United States to comply with the Geneva Conventions.
The Walsh-led appraisal of detainee operations at Guantanamo "is a subset of the executive orders that the president signed a couple of weeks ago," Morrell said.
The admiral's review of Guantanamo's detention operations is to be completed within 30 days, Morrell said.
Pentagon officials believe that detainee operations at Guantanamo "have been in compliance with Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions for some time and are still so," Morrell said.
"But, we take this tasking from the White House very seriously," Morrell said, "and that's why the secretary has asked a four-star flag officer to go down there, and put fresh eyes on the situation down there, and come back with the most up-to-date assessment of detention operations."
Obama directed Gates on Jan. 20 to pause legal proceedings involving alleged terrorists being held and tried there, pending further guidance from the White House. The president directed the secretary, who then directed the Office of Military Commissions, to cease referring any new cases through the military-commissions process at Guantanamo and to request 120-day continuances on all ongoing active cases there.