Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

36 hours left in this Mid-Year Campaign. This is our hour of need.
If you value independent journalism, please support Common Dreams.

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

Retired Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, shown during a 2013 Congressional hearing, is President-elect Trump's nominee for Secretary of Homeland Security. (Photo: Molly Riley/AP)

Retired Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, shown during a 2013 Congressional hearing, is President-elect Trump's nominee for Secretary of Homeland Security. (Photo: Molly Riley/AP)

Is John Kelly 'Unfit' (or Sadly Suited) to Lead Homeland Security Under Trump?

As former head of U.S. Southern Command, Kelly was responsible for overseeing all U.S. military activities in South and Central America, including Guantánamo

Lauren McCauley

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.

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.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Just a few days left in our crucial Mid-Year Campaign and we might not make it without your help.
Who funds our independent journalism? Readers like you who believe in our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. No corporate advertisers. No billionaire founder. Our non-partisan, nonprofit media model has only one source of revenue: The people who read and value this work and our mission. That's it.
And the model is simple: If everyone just gives whatever amount they can afford and think is reasonable—$3, $9, $29, or more—we can continue. If not enough do, we go dark.

All the small gifts add up to something otherwise impossible. Please join us today. Donate to Common Dreams. This is crunch time. We need you now.

Naomi Klein: The US Is in the Midst of a 'Shock-and-Awe Judicial Coup'

"The rolling judicial coup coming from this court is by no means over," warned the author of "The Shock Doctrine."

Jake Johnson ·


Markey, Bowman Join Climate Coalition in Urging SCOTUS Expansion

"We cannot sit idly by," said Markey, "as extremists on the Supreme Court eviscerate the authorities that the government has had for decades to combat climate change and reduce pollution."

Brett Wilkins ·


Ocasio-Cortez Says US 'Witnessing a Judicial Coup in Process'

"It is our duty to check the Court's gross overreach of power in violating people's inalienable rights and seizing for itself the powers of Congress and the president."

Brett Wilkins ·


Critics Say Biden Drilling Bonanza 'Won't Lower Gas Prices' But 'Will Worsen Climate Crisis'

"President Biden's massive public lands giveaway in the face of utter climate catastrophe is just the latest sign that his climate commitments are mere rhetoric," said one campaigner.

Kenny Stancil ·


'Payoff for 40 Years of Dark Money': Supreme Court Delivers for Corporate America

"It was the conservative court's larger agenda to gut the regulatory state and decimate executive powers to protect Americans' health and safety," warned one expert.

Jake Johnson ·

Common Dreams Logo