Former Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly was a fierce critic of President Barack Obama’s decision to shut down the detention center at the Guantanamo Bay naval base, and it’s unlikely that will change in his new role as President-elect Donald Trump’s Secretary of Homeland Security.
As the former head of United States Southern Command, it was Kelly’s job to implement Obama’s policy to shut down Gitmo, but he was not afraid to voice his disapproval of the decision.
“They’re detainees, not prisoners,” Kelly told the Military Times in January.
His disagreement with Obama eventually led the administration to publicly blame him for intentionally creating obstacles to detainee releases in December, 2015. Kelly denied the accusations, adding that he and his staff have never “refused or curtailed” delegation visits to the detention center. Kelly did his job, but he had no doubt the detainees were legitimate threats to national security.
“Every one has real, no-kidding intelligence on them that brought them here,” Kelly told the Military Times in November. “They were doing something negative, something bad, something violent, and they were taken from the battlefield. There are a lot of people that will dispute that, but I have dossiers on all of them, built and maintained by the intelligence community, both military and civilian.”
“There are no innocent men down there,” he added.
Kelly is intimately familiar with the threat posed by terrorists like those held in Guantanamo Bay on both a professional and personal level. He saw the effect of radical Islamic terrorism first hand as a commander during the Iraqi occupation, and lost his son, 1st Lt. Robert Kelly, in Afghanistan Nov. 9, 2010.
President Obama increased Guantanamo detainee releases in 2016 in an effort to close the facility before he leaves office in January. Obama will likely not be able to release the remaining 59 detainees by Trump’s inauguration Jan. 20.
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