Why Has John Bogdan Not Yet Been Relieved of Command at Guantanamo?

Bogdan was clearly put out by having to host Special Envoy Clifford Sloan, the new leader of the U.S. State Department's Office of Guantanamo Closure when he visited on July 2. I'm guessing he's upset at the whole idea of closing Gitmo.

Bogdan was clearly put out by having to host Special Envoy Clifford Sloan, the new leader of the U.S. State Department’s Office of Guantanamo Closure, when he visited on July 2. I’m guessing he’s upset at the whole idea of closing Gitmo. (Defense Department photo)

It has been clear for some time that the current hunger strike crisis at Guantanamo can be laid squarely at the feet of John Bogdan, who heads the Joint Task Force Guantanamo Detention Group. In other words, he is the head of the guard force. As I noted in this post, Shaker Aamer’s attorney, in a statement to Andy Worthington, clearly blamed Bogdan for the actions that precipitated the hunger strike.

Yesterday, Judge Royce Lamberth dealt a severe setback to Bogdan, striking down one of his most needlessly abusive practices. From Charlie Savage at the New York Times:

A federal judge on Thursday ordered the military to stop touching the groins of detainees at the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, when they are moved from their cells to speak with lawyers. The procedure had led some prisoners to stop meeting with or calling their lawyers.

In a 35-page opinion, Judge Royce C. Lamberth, the chief judge of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, called the searches — which included guards wedging their hands between the genitals and thighs of the detainees as many as four times when moving them to a meeting and back to their cells — “religiously and culturally abhorrent” to Muslims. He portrayed the procedure as unnecessary and intended to “actively discourage” meetings with lawyers.

He said the warden, Col. John Bogdan, must return to a longtime procedure in which guards shake the underwear of detainees by the band to dislodge any contraband, but do not to touch their buttocks or genitals.

Savage goes on:

He also directed the military to allow detainees who are weak from hunger strikes to meet with their lawyers in the same buildings in which they are housed, and to stop using new transport vans that have low roofs that detainees had said required them to be painfully crouched while shackled.

Julie Tate at the Washington Post has more:

Lawyers for detainees had argued that the motivation for the search procedure was not to enhance security but to isolate detainees from their attorneys in an effort to crush a growing hunger strike at the base. The hunger strike began in February as a reaction to guards searching detainees’ Korans. More than two-thirds of the 166 detainees at Guantanamo are participating in the protest, with more than 40 being force-fed.

Lamberth said the military’s action had to be judged in light of previous actions that limited the ability of attorneys to meet with their clients.

“As petitioners’ counsel correctly noted during this Court’s hearing, ‘[t]he government is a recidivist when it comes to denying counsel access,’ ” Lamberth wrote.

Recall that when public pressure finally got high enough over the abusive treatment of Bradley Manning at the Quantico Brig (where he was forced to stand naked) the government replaced the Brig Commander and then transferred Manning from Quantico to Leavenworth, where his treatment dramatically improved.

In the case of Guantanamo, many of the hunger-striking prisoners Bogdan is abusing (see this post from Marcy for more abusive practices) are already cleared for release, so the government should move quickly to release them to get them away from further abuse. However, considering Bogdan’s shaky background (I have mused that he may well have trained death squads in Iraq) and the public attention generated by the ICRC showing up at Guanantamo ahead of its scheduled date due to widespread knowledge of the latest round of abusive practices, it is clear that one of the most affirmative actions the US could take toward diffusing the situation would be to relieve Bogdan of command immediately.

Do Barack Obama and Chuck Hagel have the courage to the right thing and send Bogdan packing? I’m not holding my breath.

Update July 14: I am very embarrassed to have missed this important development Jason Leopold reported on May 23:

Military attorneys representing former CIA captives detained in a top secret camp at Guantanamo have called on Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to examine whether the head of the prison’s guard force is fit for command.

Col. John Bogdan, the commander of Guantanamo’s Joint Detention Group, has been singled out by the defense lawyers for revamping dormant policies, such as inspections of Qurans and genital patdowns, that gave rise to a hunger strike, now entering its fourth month.

“Although we represent so-called ‘high value detainees, many of our concerns relate to the treatment of all prisoners, to include men whose internment appears to be indefinite” states a 13-page letter and signed by nineteen attorneys, including several who represent self-professed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, the alleged architect behind the USS Cole bombing, sent to Hagel on Monday. “There has been a serious degradation in the quality of life for detainees in Guantanamo Bay over the past year. This change appears to have coincided with the arrival of the new Joint Detention Group Commander, Col. John V. Bogdan.”

The letter was also reported on by MSNBC, where their article also cited a Seton Hall study and made the suggestion that Bogdan has perjured himself.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

9 replies
  1. scribe says:

    Short answer: If a commander’s actions get the attention of the press or a court and he’s condemned for it and neither relieved, corrected into stopping the attention-getting behavior or moved into a new job, it’s because his bosses approve of what he’s doing.

    In my military service, I was in a unit where the commanding general said some things that could have conceivably been construed as afversely affecting the rights of his soldiers in courts-martial. (long story, details not necessary) There was a challenge to his statements in the context of a court-martial (brought by the defense) and ultimately the appellate court affirmed a trial court determination that the statements were, indeed, out of bounds. The Chief of Staff, the head of our service, had our general before him the next morning (no small deal, we were overseas) and relieved him then and there from his command and reassigned him to a sinecure so he could get his full retirement.

    Rest assured, if we know Bogdan was involved in things like training death squads, the people in charge of selecting him for this job knew it and in more detail than do we, well in advance of choosing him. And they likely chose him specifically because of his history.

    Don’t hold your breath on him being relieved any time soon

  2. Mary McCurnin says:

    This country is run by barbarians. Obama decries the conditions at Guantanamo but does nothing to help. In a civilized country these conditions would not be allowed. Obama says his hands are tied. Why not, at the very least, create a better environment for these innocent men?

    Real Journalists, the Occupy movement, women in the creepy red states, hungry children, teachers, union members (remember them?), and the innocent men at Guantanamo are the examples to the rest of the planet as to how far the evil men in charge will go suppress the population. I fear we haven’t seen anywhere near the worst to come.

  3. Teddy says:

    Expecting this guy to get relieved sounds like the same complaint folks have about Eric Holder: “Why does he do his job so badly? Why won’d Obama dismiss him?” When, in fact, he’s doing exactly the job he was hired to do, in just the place he’s supposed to do it.

    I wonder where the pressure points are, though — perhaps the new DHS head’s confirmation hearings?

  4. Teddy says:

    @Mary McCurnin:

    “Real Journalists, the Occupy movement, women in the creepy red states, hungry children, teachers, union members (remember them?), and the innocent men at Guantanamo are the examples to the rest of the planet as to how far the evil men in charge” *have gone to date* — there’s much more to come, and until they are stopped, it’ll only get worse. I’m proudly on **Team You Ain’t Seen Nuthin’ Yet**

    One ‘terror strike;’ one raid on Iran’s nuke facilities; one MERS outbreak: we’re all just sittin’ ducks waiting in the Homeland for the next sabot to drop. But, wait — did I remember to vote in America’s Got Talent this week?

  5. seedeevee says:

    What the public sees as massive failure and incompetence, our “leaders” see the perfect individual for the job.

    For today’s further study – please see Janet Napolitano, now President of the Once Mighty University of California.

  6. Mary McCurnin says:

    @seedeevee:

    The UC regents have always been ruled by authoritarian assholes. You will notice that I didn’t bother to use symbols for the two side by side ss’s in assholes. My southern genteel ways are fucking gone. I don’t even think I could retrieve them with a wayback machine.

  7. Jeff Kaye says:

    The situation is far graver than you portray, and we do not have to speculate about Bogdan’s past to prove the unacceptability of his actions. In fact, we have a recent SOUTHCOM report to assist us.

    That report, an AR-15 investigation into the death of Adnan Latif last September was released late last month. It showed that Col. Bogdan was the one who pushed for the transfer of Latif from his hospital bed to an isolation cell as a matter of “discipline”. Medical staff had decided he was not ready for transfer to for some further days, but Bogdan’s interference in the affair met the ready acquiescence of medical staff, and Latif was transferred, only to be found dead about one day later. And all this despite the fact that informed sources within Gitmo had sent a “high-priority” email to Bogdan that Latif would kill himself if so transferred.

    The SOUTHCOM report detailed how the guard force for which Bogdan is in charge was poorly trained, did not follow SOPs, including crucial SOPs on medications and documentation, and had poor morale. Furthermore, neither Bogdan nor his JTF-GTMO superiors were said to follow-up on higher command recommendations after the death of other detainees.

    Now, because of his own negligence or malfeasance, Bogdan has seized upon highly unlikely scenarios around detainees hiding drugs in their Korans or in their privates as a means of covering-up his own actions and or the actions of his guard force. The reaction from the detainees was rebellion.

    The entire story is laid out in a full analysis I did on the SOUTHCOM report, which one can read here:
    http://dissenter.firedoglake.com/2013/06/29/new-dod-report-details-nightmare-leading-to-gitmo-detainees-death/

    Jason Leopold also conducted his own full and important analysis, coming to much the same conclusions, and the two reports are complementary. His was published at Al Jazeera: http://www.aljazeera.com/humanrights/2013/07/20137324426228887.html

    Frankly, I had hoped that the Army report and its important, if quite partial and often self-serving conclusions would have had greater attention. While there were some initial reports by Charlie Savage and Carol Rosenberg about the officers not following SOPs, crucial aspects of the report were ignored, not least being the way Bogdan was centrally involved in the decision that led to Latif’s death.

    The subordination of medical personnel to military command orders or pressures is a huge issue in the medical ethics field. The significance of this issue has not penetrated to the mainstream consciousness.

    The SOUTHCOM report detailed a near-total command breakdown under Bogdan, and what we are seeing now is the ham-fisted reaction to this by Bogdan and the JTF-GTMO hierarchy, helped along by SOUTHCOM top personnel and those at the Pentagon, up to the White House, who don’t want to see Guantanamo closed for their own reasons.

    I’d hope that greater attention is paid to the points indicated above.

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