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Charlotte Observer | Career crisis hovers over Guantanamo commander

June 19, 2006

Wow! [Not in a good way]
The reporters from the Charlotte Observer that were at Guantanamo during the “aftermath” of the 3 detainees that committed suicide. The original reason that the reporters were at Guantanamo, was to do a profile of the prison Commander, who is a local of the greater Charlotte area. The article was posted online, with many extras, including multimedia, if that interests you. (I dither as to whether to view and listen to it because I’m already horrified by the torture that is sanctioned by the U.S. Government, and our inherent support of it, because of our elected officials, OOPS, back to the topic.) As a disclaimer, I’d like to say that I can’t imagine the difficult job Colonel Bumgarner has, and that the civilian administration has put the military in an unbelievable number of compromising positions, by not listening to the military, to begin with and then leaving them exposed and unprepared to do their job. The soldiers are upholding their sworn duty, and its a damn shame that the civilians aren’t. Colonel Bumgarner was assigned to be the Commander of Guantanamo Bay in April 2005, after the original stories came out, and he has tried to keep the “brothers” alive. But, as I’m reading the article, I’m reminded of the 100+ (as I recall) detainees being force fed, and most of them have been their for 4 years. They are also not told that they have representation, or in one instance, going to be released [like on of the recent suicide victims]. Col. Baumgarner takes it as a professional failure that these men died under his command. My disgust is that there is no regret for the loss of life, and in my opinion, an unlawful order.
I’ve excerpted the parts that struck me, and the inherent contradictions, both kindness and callousness.

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba — A week ago, deep inside the wire, Col. Mike Bumgarner sounded as if he thought control of his prison had slipped away.

Three suicides had rocked Camp Delta. More nooses have been found in his prison. Bumgarner ordered a higher alert. All this must stop, he said.
[snip]
“Trust me,” Bumgarner interrupted. “We do not have this under control. If we did, none of this would ever have happened.”

In a traditionally closed military society, Bumgarner, 47, is an open book. In the hours after the suicides, when some of his superiors wanted to close ranks, the Kings Mountain native kept a promise to throw open the doors on himself and his command.

But he also may have jeopardized his career.
[snip]
He despises the American abuses at Abu Ghraib. He is embarrassed by reports of similar activity at Camp Delta before he arrived in April 2005.

He believes leadership relies not on rules but core values. So he insists his guards see their prisoners as human beings. He says he has helped improve conditions — more clothes, better food. He has made the prison more culturally sensitive.

All he wanted in return was the detainees’ respect, a little trust, anything to build on.

Instead, he says, he and his troops face a daily jihad.
[snip]
Suicide attempts have been climbing — 41 attempts by 25 different prisoners. One inmate has tried to kill himself 12 times.

Prison critics say these are acts of desperation.

Bumgarner calls them acts of terrorism.

He tells of one prisoner defecating in his hand, then slamming it into the face of a guard as she tried to feed him.

He describes the No. 4 cocktails — a combination of urine, feces, semen and spit — that regularly come flying.

He believes he is protecting the world from depraved and dangerous men. He also must keep them alive.

Yet because of reports of past abuse and the Bush administration’s refusal to try the detainees in U.S. courts, he knows part of the world sees him as a war criminal, and that a growing number of Americans oppose the very mission he holds so dear.

“He’s protecting a way of life that only exists in our minds,” says Charlotte attorney Jeff Davis, a Marine Vietnam veteran who represented one of the three dead detainees. “He’s protecting something that we used to have that we’ve allowed the government to take away.”

Bumgarner believes the government’s decision to house prisoners here is not his fight. He has a prison to run, and he swears he does it safely, humanely and openly.

Take a look, he tells prison visitors ranging from Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., to O’Reilly. We have nothing to hide.
[snip]
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., blames interrogation abuses at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib prisons on legal shortcuts taken by the Justice Department to aid the war on terrorism.

He says Camp Delta, with its Honor Bound motto, is back on the right path.

“(It) speaks to the spirit of those who work under the colonel — from the guards to the interrogators. I’m proud of all of them.”
[snip]
Candor around reporters

Just after midnight on June 10, guards in the prison’s Camp I radioed blizzard, shorthand for concurrent suicide attempts.Three detainees had hanged themselves in their cells, ripping apart their extra clothing and bedding to form nooses and ropes. Later, Bumgarner says he was angry his generosity was used against him.

While the Pentagon tried to lock off the military base that day, Bumgarner opened Camp Delta to two Observer journalists who flew in the same day of the suicides to do a long-scheduled story on the colonel.

For the next two days, Bumgarner welcomed the pair in his war room as he and his staff discussed ways to make sure more suicides didn’t take place.

As he took steps to tighten Camp Delta security, he seemed to enjoy having non-military folks around. He spoke candidly — sometimes outrageously so — about his relationship with the detainees, “the brothers,” borrowing a Muslim term of endearment. “They’re nothing short of a damn animal that can’t be trusted,” he said at one point.
[snip]
To prevent more suicides, he tells his staff: “I want you to keep an eye on the weak-willed folks because life in the camps is going to suck awhile.”

Bumgarner did not mourn the three deaths.

But he expressed deep disappointment that he had failed to keep them alive.

“I never thought anyone would die here,” he said.

Bumgarner joined his visitors for the last time at lunch on Tuesday. He and his senior staff talked about NASCAR, the colonel’s Sunday night management training, which involved nothing more than potluck and “The Sopranos,” and his upcoming appearance with Bill O’Reilly. He looked like he needed sleep.

Then, the 6-foot-2, 265-pound Bumgarner put a massive fried pork chop on his plate between two pieces of bread and raised it to his mouth.

“In honor of our three dead brothers,” he said, before taking a resounding bite.
[snip]
His time here is scheduled to end June 30. His new assignment at Fort Leonard Wood (Mo.) starts in August. First, the sense of failure surrounding the detainees’ deaths must burn itself out.

“You know that the Jack Nicholson movie (“A Few Good Men”) is right — nobody wants to know what we’re doing here. It’s not pleasant. It’s just what we have to do.”

For 14 months, Mike Bumgarner says he has done all he could to live up to the Camp Delta creed. One morning changed everything. He feels as if he’s fallen short.

Has it ended his career, he’s asked?

“We’ll see,” he says.

Now, go to the link below and read the epilogue…

Charlotte Observer | 06/18/2006 | Career crisis hovers over Guantanamo commander

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