Rear Admiral John Ring had seven weeks to go as the commander of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. By mid-June, Ring would have rotated out of the position quietly and on schedule. Instead, Ring got relieved of his command over a “loss of confidence in his ability” to lead the facility, but the Department of Defense won’t explain why — or why they opened an investigation into Ring’s leadership last month:
“Commander, U.S. Southern Command, U.S. Navy Adm. Craig Faller, relieved U.S. Navy Rear Adm. John Ring, commander, Joint Task Force – Guantanamo, April 27, due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command,” said a statement from Col. Amanda Azubuike, the spokesman for U.S. Southern Command.
“U.S. Army Brig. Gen. John Hussey, JTF-GTMO’s deputy commander, has been designated the acting commander,” Azubuike said in the statement. “This change in leadership will not interrupt the safe, humane, legal care and custody provided to the detainee population at GTMO.” …
Azubuike told ABC News that a command investigation was opened in March. The results of that investigation were submitted to Admiral Faller in mid-April.
No details were provided as to what allegations may have triggered the investigation.
The New York Times didn’t have any better luck in getting an explanation for Ring’s sudden dismissal so close to the end of his assignment. The spokesperson for Southern Command insisted that it had nothing to do with a media tour Ring conducted last week, in which he warned that the aging population of detainees would soon require specialized care that was unavailable at Gitmo:
Col. Amanda Azubuike, a spokeswoman for the Southern Command, which oversees the prison, said the decision to remove Admiral Ring had nothing to do with a recent news media visit he hosted there. She said only that he was let go after a monthlong investigation that was opened in March. …
In 2013 and 2014, Gen. John F. Kelly, a former Southern Command leader who would become President Trump’s first homeland security secretary and second chief of staff, had unsuccessfully lobbied Congress for money to replace the prison.
Admiral Ring renewed that effort last June, telling reporters that the current top-secret prison where the military segregates high-value detainees, called Camp 7, would become inadequate as the prisoners aged. Camp 7 houses Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and other men the C.I.A. previously held as leaders, deputies or foot soldiers of Al Qaeda or other extremist groups.
If the Pentagon didn’t appreciate Ring’s efforts last summer, they would have hated Ring’s media tour last week. The news reports from it hit just a day before his ouster, including at the NYT and this piece at the Atlantic by Katie Bo Williams. Note well how sympathetic Ring comes off in these reports, and especially the contrast drawn between Ring and the Pentagon over Gitmo. And also note the connection drawn between enhanced interrogation techniques and the declining health of the detainees:
The aging population at Gitmo poses unique challenges for Admiral John Ring, the latest in a string of officers who have led the prison on one-year deployments. Defense attorneys say many detainees suffer the ill effects of brutal interrogation tactics now considered to be torture. The United States has committed to providing the same health care to the remaining detainees that it provides to its own troops, as required by the Geneva Conventions. But the secure medical facilities built to treat the detainees—Ring calls them “guests”—can’t cope with every kind of surgery geriatric patients typically need, and weren’t built to last forever. Congress has prohibited the transfer of detainees to the continental United States, which means any treatment they receive will have to take place at a remote outpost on the tip of Cuba.
“I’m sort of caught between a rock and a hard place,” Ring said. “The Geneva Conventions’ Article III, that says that I have to give the detainees equivalent medical care that I would give to a trooper. But if a trooper got sick, I’d send him home to the United States.
“And so I’m stuck. Whatever I’m going to do, I have to do here.”
There was nothing to like for the Pentagon in these reports, which is why the timing of Ring’s dismissal to this PR move seems awfully coincidental, if not outright suspicious. It’s no secret that Donald Trump is a big fan of Gitmo and wants it to remain open forever — and to start taking in new detainees where practicable. As a political issue, it had dropped off the radar after the 2016 election, leaving the White House in a comfortable place for its policy — at least until Ring held his media tour. It didn’t actually make that much of a splash, but it might have been enough for the DoD to look for someone more enthusiastic about his job to put in Ring’s place. Or at least enough to question Ring’s “ability to command” for another whopping seven weeks, maybe.