President-elect Donald Trump's selection to lead the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), former Marine General John Kelly, should be "disqualified" from the post due to his "brutal" treatment of detainees at the Guantánamo Bay Detention Center, attorneys warned Tuesday ahead of Kelly's Senate confirmation hearing.
However, for a position charged with carrying out the orders of a president who wants to wall-off a country, target Muslims, as well as bring back waterboarding —and "worse"—the former general who oversaw the controversial military prison might be just what Trump is looking for.
As former head of U.S. Southern Command, Kelly was responsible for all U.S. military activities in South and Central America, including Guantánamo.
Pointing to the human rights abuses that occurred on his watch, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which has led the legal battle against Guantánamo and represents a number of its detainees, said Kelly's "aggressive oversight of the illegal military prison...disqualifies him" from leading DHS.
"Presiding over a population of detainees not charged or convicted of crimes, over whom he had maximum custodial control, Kelly treated them with brutality," CCR said. "His response to the detainees' peaceful hunger strike in 2013 was punitive force-feeding, solitary confinement, and rubber bullets. Furthermore, he sabotaged efforts by the Obama administration to resettle detainees, consistently undermining the will of his commander in chief."
"His temperament and actions make him unfit to lead an agency that currently holds tens of thousands of immigrants, including many fleeing violence and many in long-term indefinite detention," the group states.
Indeed, as head of Homeland Security, Kelly "would be responsible for implementing some of Trump's most controversial policy pledges, including mass deportations, curtailing immigration from some Muslim majority countries, and enhanced security at the southern border," the Guardian observed.
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While overseeing U.S. Southern Command, Kelly once said the "near collapse of societies in the [southern] hemisphere" and the "associated drug and [undocumented immigrant] flow" are an "existential" threat to the United States.
What's more, upon his nomination, Kelly said he would "put a stop to political correctness that for too long has dictated our approach to national security," which many interpreted as a troubling indication of how he would run DHS. The department has a budget of more than $40 billion and employs over 240,000 people across 23 federal agencies.
At the time the comments were made, Baher Azmy, legal director of CCR, described the remark as a "worrying kind of dog whistle to the alt-right, who wants more torture and more profiling."
On Tuesday, CCR said Kelly's statement is "a clear warning sign," amounting to "a thinly veiled endorsement of policies and practices that are illegal and immoral, including torture and racial and religious profiling." The Senate, the group continued, "must reject his nomination to preserve and protect the rule of law."
Ahead of Tuesday's hearing, Amnesty International similarly urged people to contact their representatives and demand "tough questions" on whether Kelly will "protect human rights."
Kelly's confirmation hearing is scheduled to begin at 3:30pm EST and will be streamed live on C-SPAN.