A key architect of the Guantánamo Bay prison is now saying it should never have opened.
William Lietzau, the Pentagon's top official on detainee policy, made the statement in an interview with the UK's The Mail on Sunday.
Instead, Lietzau told the paper, the prisoners should have been labeled prisoners of war and "held in Afghanistan," or, if they were charged with a crime, they should have been charged in federal courts, not the military commissions—the commissions he helped develop.
Further, he charged, George W. Bush's label of "'the global war on terrorism’ had suffered from a lack of clarity, suggesting that it might be effectively limitless."
On torture at the prison, he said, "There were people who were treated badly, and this is not something we are proud of," and dismissed widespread reports of ongoing torture.
“Lietzau’s right: the ‘war on terror’ was misguided and counterproductive from the start," stated Cori Crider, Strategic Director with the London-based human rights group Reprieve.
"The shrinking numbers of Americans who defend Guantánamo need to sit up and listen—now one of Gitmo’s legal architects says it should never have been opened. Of course we can’t un-torture people or give prisoners back their lost years, but we can stop making these terrible mistakes," added Crider.
Just over a week ago, Lietzau announced that he would be stepping down from his position.
Lietzau's comments this weekend stand in contrast to his track record. As the New York Times' Charlie Savage reported, Lietzau
has played a major role in shaping detention policies across two administrations. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when he was a uniformed lawyer for the Marine Corps, he served as an adviser in the creation of the first version of President George W. Bush’s system of military commissions trials.
In the Obama administration, he has been the primary official shaping policies for “law of war” detention at the prison at Guantánamo Bay and Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.
In that role, he has frequently defended prisoner-of-war-style indefinite detention without trial, saying it is a moral, lawful and humane part of warfare. His leading role within the administration in defending its continued use in the open-ended war against Al Qaeda has drawn fire from many of the same critics angry at President Obama for failing to close the prison at Guantánamo.
In addition McClatchy reported that an anonymous administration official
noted that Lietzau had a reputation as a tough defender of holding suspected terrorists at Guantanamo even if there was no enough evidence to charge them with a crime.
"He was an obstacle," the official said. "There appeared to be divergent views on the existence of the facility. He just wasn’t on board with the president."