Guantánamo Prison Commander Was Fired for Mishandling Classified Information

This article was produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba — The former Guantánamo Bay prison commander’s mishandling of classified information led to his firing in April, a war court prosecutor said on Wednesday. The disclosure was the first public explanation of the abrupt dismissal of the admiral who had publicly campaigned for Congress to fund more permanent prison facilities at Guantánamo.

The commander, Rear Adm. John C. Ring, was relieved on April 27 by Adm. Craig S. Faller, the leader of Southern Command, who declared a loss of confidence in Admiral Ring’s leadership without explaining further.

The disclosure on Wednesday came from Navy Cmdr. Kevin L. Flynn, a prosecutor in a pretrial hearing for an Iraqi prisoner accused of commanding Qaeda forces that committed war crimes in Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004. Commander Flynn said Admiral Ring’s firing was unrelated to his remarks to reporters this year about the need to build a prison that envisions end-of-life care at Guantánamo for former C.I.A. prisoners.

Defense lawyers for the prisoner, Abd al Hadi al Iraqi, had sought information about the firing to argue that Mr. Hadi’s health care was not in compliance with the Geneva Conventions. Navy surgeons conducted five spine surgeries on him at Guantánamo in nine months, starting in September 2017. He now relies on a wheelchair, a walker and painkillers.

But Commander Flynn said Admiral Ring’s firing had nothing to do with the Hadi case or his public advocacy for “improvements of detention facilities.” He said that an investigation found that the admiral had mishandled classified information and that he was not candid about it. The prosecutor did not elaborate on the nature of the information or how it was mishandled, including whether it was disclosed to the public.

The trial judge, Lt. Col. Michael D. Libretto, denied a request by Mr. Hadi’s lawyers for information about the firing. But Colonel Libretto, a Marine, ordered the prosecution to provide defense lawyers with any documents or reports by “knowledgeable officials” that could have informed Admiral Ring’s public statements of deteriorating conditions at the maximum-security lockup where Mr. Hadi is imprisoned.

Image
Credit

The facility is called Camp 7 and houses 14 men who were previously held by the C.I.A. in its secret “black site” overseas prison network. The other 26 prisoners at Guantánamo are mostly held in two other prison buildings called Camp 5 and Camp 6.

Military commanders have been talking about the need to replace Camp 7 since at least 2013. John F. Kelly, the Southern Command leader at the time who would become President Trump’s first Homeland Security secretary and second chief of staff, pressed Congress to commit $49 million to build a new prison. The cost of construction ballooned to $69 million in 2018, when Admiral Ring began pushing for a new, wheelchair-accessible prison that complied with the Geneva Conventions. Congress has consistently refused to fund it.

Two prosecutors on the Hadi case traveled to Miami two weeks ago to read the report on the Ring investigation at the headquarters of the Southern Command, which oversees prison operations at Guantánamo, Commander Flynn said. He said prosecutors gave Mr. Hadi’s lawyers an executive summary of the investigation last week.

The judge was handed a copy in court on Wednesday and read it on the spot.

A defense lawyer for Mr. Hadi, Navy Lt. Mishael A. Danielson, said his team found the reasons for Admiral Ring’s firing to be vague. The summary was critical of his leadership style and said he tried to consolidate communications under his command, Lieutenant Danielson said.

Neither Admiral Ring nor his Navy lawyer responded to requests for comment. A Southern Command spokeswoman, Col. Amanda I. Azubuike, declined to comment because The New York Times has a pending Freedom of Information lawsuit against the Defense Department to obtain a copy of the 108-page Ring report, which was completed Aug. 1.

The military announced the admiral’s firing on a Sunday, April 28, a day after Admiral Faller relieved him. The day before it was announced, The Times published an article online that quoted Admiral Ring extensively on Pentagon planning for terrorism suspects to grow old and die at Guantánamo Bay.

The new prison commander is Rear Adm. Timothy C. Kuehhas, who has not engaged with reporters since taking over in May.

Distinct Today is a news media company, focused on the intersection between hyper-relevant content and digital innovation. Distinct Today curates editorial news content, experiences, and events across multiple platforms including email, mobile, online and offline. Distinct Today is headquartered in Houston, Texas. The company is privately held. Distinct Today targets an affluent, college-educated audience.